Duke fought like crazy to keep it close against Louisville, but, ultimately, the Cardinals were just too much, running away in the second half for an 85-63 win Sunday to advance to the Final Four.
The loss followed a familiar storyline for Duke in recent years. Once again, the Blue Devils were unable to deal with a supremely athletic squad in the NCAA tournament, especially on the perimeter.
Honestly, it was remarkable that Duke was able to hang around as long as it did. The Blue Devils gave it all they had but were fighting an uphill battle from the opening tip, with every possession on both ends of the floor a struggle dealing with Louisville’s guards.
Early in the second half, Duke pulled even with Louisville at 42-42 when Mason Plumlee threw down a dunk with 16:20 to play. The Cardinals then proceeded to go on a 20-4 run over the span of 7:27. During that stretch, the Blue Devils did not make a shot from the field.
Mike Krzyzewski had this to say after the game, according to Mark Ennis of SBNation.com.
“We would have to play great to beat them and I thought we had a chance and then ‘boom’.” - Coach K— Mark Ennis (@Mengus22) March 31, 2013
Blue Devil guards Quinn Cook, Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon combined to shoot 7-of-30 from the field, making just two of their nine three-point attempts. They could not shake Louisville’s pressure defense, and nothing came easy offensively.
Conversely, Louisville’s duo of Peyton Siva and Russ Smith had 39 points, making a staggering 13-of-18 from inside the arc. Duke could not keep either in front of them or slow either in transition.
As a result, Duke’s big men got into some early foul trouble, with Ryan Kelly picking up three first-half fouls, and Louisville shot a high percentage. As a team, the Cardinals shot 64.3 percent from the two-point area.
This is hardly a new problem for Duke in the NCAA tournament. Just last season, C.J. McCollum had 30 points as Lehigh upset the Blue Devils, 75-70. In 2011, Arizona’s athleticism overwhelmed Duke in a 93-77 loss in the Sweet 16. The same can be said of Villanova in 2009, a 77-54 blowout in the Sweet 16.
It’s a frustrating problem for Coach K. There isn’t a drill he can do in practice or pep talk he can give to make a player play better on-ball defense. That is something that just has to be recruited.
Next year, Duke returns Tyler Thornton, the team’s best perimeter defender, along with Cook and Sulaimon. Coach K is also bringing in uber-talented wing Jabari Parker as well as perimeter players Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye.
With the loss of Plumlee and Kelly, the Blue Devils will be a perimeter-oriented team in the 2013-14 season. They should be better able to match the athleticism that has been such a problem in recent years.
Unfortunately, that leaves little comfort for this season or Duke seniors Curry, Plumlee and Kelly.
All Coach K could do Sunday was congratulate Louisville on a well-played game, according to Duke basketball’s official Twitter page.
Coach K: "We want to congratulate Louisville. They play so hard. Their two guards set an amazing pace."— Duke Basketball (@dukeblueplanet) March 31, 2013
There was nothing else he or Duke could have done differently to change the outcome of Sunday’s game.