DURHAM, N.C. (AP) - Nolan Smith is making everything look easy these days, from knocking down his own shots to directing the offense for top-ranked Duke while its star freshman point guard sits with an injury.
The senior scored a career-high 33 points to help the Blue Devils beat Alabama-Birmingham 85-64 on Wednesday night, giving Duke its 24th straight victory dating to last season's run to the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA tournament championships.
Kyle Singler added 15 points, including his 2,000th career point during a game-opening 26-4 run that took the drama out of this one early. The Blue Devils (14-0) never let the Blazers (10-3) closer than 14 points after that in a performance that pleased coach Mike Krzyzewski considering it came in a nonconference game crammed between Duke's first two ACC contests.
Everything started with Smith, who turned in a performance the Hall of Fame coach called ``spectacular.'
``I think Nolan's probably playing as well as anyone in the country right now,' he said.
Smith finished 11 for 22 from the field to go with seven rebounds and five assists in 36 minutes. It marked the fifth straight game Smith had scored at least 22 points, a stretch during which he's averaging 26 points while shooting 62 percent (45 of 73) overall and 63 percent (12 of 19) from 3-point range.
``It's just picking my spots, whether it's coming off a ball screen or in our sets,' Smith said. ``It's picking my spots and seeing where openings are and just getting there and having the confidence to shoot the shots. I'm shooting with a lot of confidence. My coaches and teammates are all behind me.'
Smith had 20 points in the first half, then hit a free throw with 9:36 left to tie his previous career high of 29 set against Baylor in last year's NCAA regional final. A few minutes later, he scored his personal-record basket in style, blowing past a defender near the 3-point arc and soaring into the lane for an emphatic one-handed dunk that made it 76-56 with 5:55 left.
Smith finished with two free throws with 1:31 left, then left the game to loud cheers and was greeted by Krzyzewski with a fist pump and a pat on the behind.
Count UAB coach Mike Davis among Smith's fans.
``The thing I like about him is his endurance,' Davis said. ``You can watch a game and you see a guy make eight points in a row and he's got to come out of the game, or he'll make a couple of hard plays and he's tired and got to come out. This guy is unbelievable from that standpoint. He plays the same way the whole night.'
``When he's making shots, he's almost impossible to guard.'
Smith's surge has been perfectly timed considering the Blue Devils are still waiting to learn when - or if - rookie point guard Kyrie Irving will be back from an injured right big toe. Irving is out indefinitely and wearing a cast while walking with crutches on the sideline.
Krzyzewski said Irving recently had another CT scan and an MRI, but doctors still are working to treat the injury without surgery.
``I think that's where it's going to go, that they've seen some improvement there,' Krzyzewski said. ``But I can't tell you that right now because I haven't talked to them.'
Jamarr Sanders scored 21 points for UAB, including a 3-pointer on the game's first possession. But that lead lasted just 31 seconds, as the Blue Devils answered with 16 straight points. Smith had 10 points during that run, making a pair of 3s in the first 4 minutes before driving past Aaron Johnson for an easy layup to cap the spurt.
Singler cracked the 2,000-point mark with his second 3 of the game with 14:04 left in the half, then followed with a jumper over Anthony Criswell on the next possession to make it 26-4.
``We were trying to establish a lead,' Singler said. ``We were just trying to get into them. We just didn't want them to feel comfortable, especially in the beginning of the game, and it worked out for us.'
Duke has won 32 of 33 games overall heading into the heart of its ACC schedule. The Blue Devils face Maryland at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Sunday night and still have nonconference games at St. John's and at home against Temple.
The Associated Press News Service
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