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Clutch free throw shooting gives Arizona win at No. 2 Duke

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-kylan-boswell-pac12-weekly-award-duke-2023 Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

In the lead up to Arizona’s first trip to Duke in more than 30 years, Tommy Lloyd went back and forth between raving about the opportunity to play a true road game against one of college basketball’s top overall programs and if he might have bitten off more he could chew with the Wildcats’ auspicious nonconference schedule.

Never doubt yourself, Tommy.

Arizona went into venerable Cameron Indoor Stadium and did what very few nonconference opponents have done in the past 30 years: win.

The 12th-ranked Wildcats knocked off No. 2 Duke 78-73 on Friday night, picking up a massive early-season win that will no doubt result in a return to the Top 10 next week but also establish them as one of the teams to beat this season. It was the UA’s eighth win in 24 tries against a top-2 AP team, the last coming against UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament final in March, and the first against a nonconference opponent since knocking off No. 2 Maryland in 2001.

Arizona outscored the Blue Devils 11-4 in the final minute, making all seven free throws including a pair of 1-and-1s after starting 5 of 11 from the line. The last two foul shots were made by Caleb Love, the North Carolina transfer who improved to 3-1 at Duke.

Love, who had 11 points, made both free throws with 4.6 seconds left to give the UA a 3-point lead and then he collected a loose ball after Pelle Larsson tipped Duke’s halfcourt inbounds pass. Love tossed to KJ Lewis for a sealing dunk.

Keshad Johnson gave Arizona the lead for good on a 3-point play with 46.8 seconds left, and the San Diego State transfer was also involved in forcing Duke’s Tyrese Proctor into a traveling call with 28 seconds to go. Johnson led all UA scorers with 14 points and eight rebouns, while Oumar Ballo had 13 points, Kylan Boswell had 12 (with eight rebounds and five assists) and Larsson added 12.

Arizona shot 46.2 percent from the game, 50 percent in the second half, and outrebounded Duke 45-33 with 15 offensive rebounds. Duke shot 43.1 percent and got 25 points from center Kyle Filipowski, while Jeremy Roach added 17.

Arizona had a 41-33 lead at halftime thanks to a 29-15 rebounding edge, including 11-2 on the offensive glass. But it also had five players with two fouls, and Johnson picked up his third just a minute into the second half. The Wildcats also turned it over four times in the first three-plus minutes, after having only seven turnovers in the first half.

Three more UA players got their third foul in an 86-second span, allowing Duke to go up 54-52 on a Stewart tip-in over Ballo with 12:46 remaining, its first lead since the 5:54 mark of the first half.

But Arizona held the course, with a Jaden Bradley steal and score starting a 8-0 run for a 60-54 edge with 9:28 to go. Boswell had a 3-pointer and an assist during that run.

Roach hit a 3 late in the shot clock to put Duke ahead 67-65 with 2:09 left, its final advantage of the night. Arizona held the lead for nearly 30 minutes.

After making its first three shots to start the game, including an Ballo dunk five seconds in, Arizona went nearly four minutes without scoring to fall behind. It also lost Larsson to two early fouls, providing the first real test to its added depth.

The bench came through, helping to build a 21-16 lead with 7:56 left in the first half before Duke went ahead on a 9-2 run.

Arizona built a 36-30 lead with 2:26 left before halftime, forcing Duke to call timeout, and in the final minute of the period Love blocked Mark Mitchell’s shot at the end of a shot clock and then drained a deep 3 at the buzzer.

The UA returns home for its next three games, beginning Monday against Southern.