NO. 5 UTAH VS. NO. 1 DUKE
■ SITE: NRG Stadium, Houston
■ TV: 6:45 p.m., CBS (8)
■ LINE: Duke -5½; total 134
■ STORYLINE: Duke and Utah each rely heavily on a standout freshman in the post and a senior star in the backcourt — two matchups that will take center stage tonight in the teams’ Sweet 16 clash. The Blue Devils boast arguably the nation’s top player in center Jahlil Okafor, the first freshman in school history to score 20 or more points in each of his first two NCAA Tournament games. Okafor has averaged 23.5 points during the tournament on 21-for-27 shooting, but he will be opposed by a solid Utes front line led by freshman Jakob Poeltl, who is averaging 15 points on 12-for-13 shooting in the NCAAs.
In the backcourt, Utah’s Delon Wright needs to step it up after shooting 2-for-7 in each of the last two rounds, during which he racked up more turnovers (nine) than assists (seven). Blue Devils counterpart Quinn Cook is averaging 18.5 points during the tournament while knocking down half of his 18 3-point attempts and could be a major factor, particularly if the Utes need to double-team Okafor. The winner of this game advances to the South final to meet No. 2 seed Gonzaga or 11th-seeded UCLA.
■ ABOUT UTAH (26-8): The Utes got past Georgetown 75-64 their last time out with four players scoring in double figures, led by gritty point guard Brandon Taylor, who shot 4-for-8 from 3-point range en route to 14 points. “He can knock it down. He is really good,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose other compliments included “Wright is one of the top guards in the country” and Poeltl “is a really good player and he is going to be a big-time pro.” Dakarai Tucker has given Utah a boost off the bench during the tournament, totaling 20 points on 60 percent shooting so far.
■ ABOUT DUKE (31-4): The Blue Devils are 14-1 in their last 15 games and have held five of their last seven opponents to 57 or fewer points,though their overall defensive ranking is 131st nationally. Freshman wing Justise Winslow, a Houston native, has been overshadowed by Okafor all season, though his numbers during the tournament — 9.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, six assists, two steals, two blocks — have provided a huge boost. “It’s big,” Cook said after Winslow’s terrific all-around effort in the round of 32 victory over San Diego State. “I know (Winslow)’s going to see all his family — all his family is going to be there. It’s just great to move onto the next round. I know one of his goals was to get to a Final Four, so we got (to Houston), where we can complete it.”
1. Cook has made at least one 3-pointer in a school-record 45 straight games.
2. Utah has not reached the Elite Eight since it advanced to the national title game in 1998 behind Andre Miller and Michael Doleac. Duke has reached the regional final only twice since 2004, winning the national championship in 2010 and losing in the Elite Eight to Louisville in 2013.
3. Four of the Utes’ top five scorers shoot at least 81.8 percent from the foul line. The lone exception is Poeltl (45.1 percent).
■ PREDICTION: Duke 66, Utah 59