HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the first time this season, Zion Williamson has come down to Earth - for the time being.
After an incredible start to the season, shooting 82 percent from the field while averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, Williamson has become the focal point for defenses in this year’s Maui Invitational, scoring just 13 points in back-to-back games.
While averaging 13 points per game as a freshman on a team loaded with offensive talent is nothing to worry about in terms of long-term production, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the team’s 78-72 win over Auburn Tuesday night that his superstar is pressing.
“I thought, I actually thought today he put some pressure on himself,” he said. “He usually is a kid that's having a lot of fun. At one of the timeouts in the first half I said, smile, have fun, like that's -- I think he wants to be so good and that we got to be careful for all these guys not to put pressure on themselves and just to play the game because they love to play. Then he got better on it.”
Picking up early fouls for a player as aggressive as Williamson can be detrimental to his mindset. After all, no player wants to foul out of a game in period, let alone a matchup against another Top 10 team.
But Williamson is not alone as fellow freshman phenom Cam Reddish also got into early foul trouble against the Tigers, picking up three first half fouls resulting in just seven minutes of play before halftime.
“(Williamson) and Cam have to -- it's part of learning. They have to stay away from silly fouls. And Cam only played seven minutes in the first half and got his third foul and we don't, we try to maneuver that when a guy gets two. So if we're going to win a big game, we need our main players in there. And the third foul was really a silly foul, 90 feet from the bucket.”
Krzyzweski did credit Reddish and Williamson for bouncing back in the second half, and would like to see these teaching moments turn into lessons that they can both learn from.
“I don’t know if they -- when I said that about Zion I don’t, I don’t want you to think that I feel that these guys are all feeling pressure. I just thought he wasn’t himself today to begin with. And then obviously he made some good plays," he said. "It’s got to be fun for them. And they can’t let -- and I’ll do everything I can not to let them think that everything is won in November or December. But what we need to do is just use the season to get better and don’t worry about, no one gives a trophy for who is No. 1 in November, December, January or February. Even March. And don’t play for things that the outside wants you to play for. Play for what you want to play for and that’s fun, getting better.
“So we'll point those things out -- and you're not going to learn them, experience is the best way to learn, and hopefully we can get that experience and win. But it might be that you get an experience and you lose too. But today they won and I'm proud of them.”
No. 1 Duke will look to keep its perfect 17-0 streak at the Lahaina Civic Center intact when the Blue Devils take on No. 3 Gonzaga Wednesday in the 2018 Maui Invitational championship game. Tip-off is set for 12 p.m. HT.