Here we go again. It seems every game Louisville plays the opponent is on a long winning streak. Duke comes into Saturday’s noon game at the KFC Yum! Center on a five game winning streak. What else is new.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino said a couple of weeks ago that the upcoming schedule reminded him of the old days in the Big East. Now its the Atlantic Coast Conference and it doesn’t get any easier next week with road games at Pittsburgh and Miami, Florida.
Don’t look now but here comes Duke (20-6, 9-4) making a run at another ACC regular season title. With a short bench Duke, after its streak of 167 consecutive weeks ranked in the Associated Press poll came to an end on February 1 is back in the poll at 20th.
The Blue Devils continue to play without injured senior forward Amile Jefferson who hasn’t played since December 5th.
To make matters worse in Wednesday in the 74-73 win over rival North Carolina, Duke lost junior guard Matt Jones to a badly sprained ankle. Jones was averaging 11.2 points a game and a 41 percent three-point shooter.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino was asked if he thought Duke has turned the corner to become a better team.
“I think they adjusted to a key injury,” said Pitino at his pregame press conference Friday. “They’ll come back. I just think they’ve got tremendous firepower. When you make nine threes per game and you shoot free throws well, you’re going to win a lot of games.”
Duke has had a lot of close games. Wednesday night, Duke trailed North Carolina in the second-half by 11 points only to rally and win. On February 8, the Devils rallied to a 63-62 win over visiting Virginia on a last second shot by Grayson Allen in the lane as time expired.
The Cards led by two points in the second-half at Duke on Feb. 8, only to lose 72-65. Duke just always seems to find a way to win as the season moves toward March and the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.
Last year Duke lost the regular season ACC title and in the tournament semifinals to
Notre Dame 74-64. The Blue Devils entered the NCAA Tournament as a four seed won six games beating Wisconsin in the championship. It was the Blue Devils fourth title under Mike Krzyzewski.
“We’ve definitely gotten tougher,” said Allen, a sophomore guard, who leads the Devils in scoring with a 20.7 point per game average. Allen, ranked second in the ACC in scoring and 19th in the NCAA shoots 48.4 percent from the field and 84.3 from the free line throw line. His 42.7 percent 3-point shooting is fourth in the ACC.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games its really tough,” said Allen. “Your fighting each possession. We’re playing tired down the stretch. We have to talk when we are fatigued. You have to sprint when your tired and it makes you mentally tough.”
One of Duke’s wins during the streak was the win over Louisville. That was during the time when Duke was unranked and searching to find itself.
“That was a big win versus Louisville, it brought us closer together,” said freshman guard Luke Kennard.
Duke led 35-24 at halftime, lost the lead only to rally.
“They were just a better team that night,” said Pitino. “It was a close game and they hit some shots and we didn’t. We didn’t guard them in isolations very well, or on the side pick-and-roll, we didn’t communicate defensively and it led to a loss. Bt it was more their good offensive play than anything else.”
Allen led Duke with 19 points, freshman Brandon Ingram, averages 17.3 points, had 18. The Blue Devils shot 44.7 percent for the game, but made nine of 18 in the second-half which included five of nine three’s. Allen was 4 of 6 on three’s while Ingram was 2 of 5 and had 10 rebounds and four assist.
“When you play Duke, like Notre Dame, you’ve got to stop their perimeter game,and then they drive quite a bit because you have to stop their 3-point shot. The get to the free throw line.
“They put you in one-on-one situations where if help too much they get a three, if you don’t help they get fouled. So it’s a little different assignment defensively and we have to be ready for it,” said Pitino.
Duke is second in the ACC in scoring at 83.4 points a game and second in three-point shooting as a team at just under 40 percent. The Blue Devils lead the league in made threes in a game at over nine.
What makes Duke so tough is their shooting. Until Jones went down all five Blue Devil starters averaged double figures.
“They basically got four shooters on the court,” said sophomore Chinanu Onuaku who struggled in the first meeting with two points and three rebounds. Onuaku played only 22 minutes because of foul trouble.
“They got more shooters coming off the bench. I feel we have to get back to our defensive aggressiveness,” said Onuaku.
The Cardinals (20-6, 9-4) ranked 18th in the Associated Press Poll is a game behind Miami and North Carolina and a half game behind Virginia in the ACC standings. Notre Duke and the Cardinals are all tied in the standings.
“All I’ve been focusing on is getting them (the team) better individually, as well as collectively and making sure they have fun,” said Pitino.
The Cardinals will wear special retro uniforms designed with elements from 1980s UofL teams and UofL’s 1986 NCAA Championship team will be honored at halftime on their 30th anniversary.
Coach Denny Crum in winning his second NCAA title as a head recalled a conversation he had with former Indiana coach Bob Knight after the game. Knight told Crum, “the better team didn’t win tonight” Knight said to Crum. “Tonight we were the better the team, Crum said to Knight.
Duke finished 37-3 that season while the Cardinals led by freshman never nervous Pervis Ellison, Billy Thompson, Milt Wagner, Herbert Crook, Jeff Hall just got better and better as the season progressed.
Some key wins during the run NCAA title run included a win over a talented Bradley team, North Carolina, led by Kenny “The Jet” Smith. Auburn was coached by Sonny Smith and led by Chuck Person.
The Cardinals knocked off LSU in the semifinals of the Final Four. The Tigers lost to Kentucky three times that season edged the Wildcats in the regional finals to prevent a Final Four meeting between the Cats and Cardinals. LSU featured John Williams, Nikita Wilson and Ricky Blanton.
Duke featured current ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, David Henderson, Tommy Amaker, Danny Ferry, Billy King and Quin Snyder.
Bird chirps……….The Cardinals are seventh in the nation in scoring defense (60.7), eighth in field goal percentage defense (.381), 11th in rebound margin (+8.7) and 12th in 12th in offensive rebounds (14.1).
The Cardinals have shot 50 percent or better in the second half of a game 16 times this season including in Wednesday’s win over Syracuse (20-of-36).
Rick Pitino is 1-4 versus Duke (includes 0-1 at Kentucky).
Louisville is No. 30 nationally in the ratings percentage index (RPI) and fifth in the Sagarin Ratings. UofL has the No. 3 defense in Ken Pomoroy’s adjusted defensive ratings and are sixth overall.
Duke is ranks 10th nationally in turnover average (10.0) and 10th in offensive percentage( 14.5).
The Blue Devils Luke Kennard leads the ACC and ranked third in the nation with a .914 free throw percentage, which would rank second by a Duke freshman.
The Cardinals are a 6 1/2 point favorite. Dave O’Brien and Dick Vitale will call the game on ESPN. Allison Williams is the courtside reporter.
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