Aaron in goal for Duke's back-to-back title chase
Luke Aaron started, but didn’t finish, Duke’s last two NCAA Tournament wins.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Duke coach John Danowski lacks confidence in him as the Blue Devils shoot for a second consecutive national championship.
Danowski said Sunday that Aaron, not Kyle Turri, will start in goal during the NCAA final against Notre Dame today (1 p.m., ESPN2).
“Luke is the starter,” Danowski said during a news conference at M&T Bank Stadium. “He’ll start (versus Notre Dame). You know, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it or something like that. So we’re going to stay with that.”
Turri has proven himself to be a viable option for top-seeded Duke (16-3). He posted a 14-1 record last season, including a 16-10 win over Syracuse in the NCAA final at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.
Turri started two games this season but Aaron took over the starting role. Today will be Aaron’s 18th start.
But in Duke’s 19-11 quarterfinal win over Johns Hopkins on May 18 and in Saturday’s 15-12 semifinal win over Denver, Danowski removed Aaron in favor of Turri in the second half.
Against Denver, Turri posted more saves (four) in his 13:46 of fourth-quarter plan than the three Aaron posted over the first three quarters.
But after reviewing game footage Saturday night, Danowski decided that most of the 10 goals Aaron allowed weren’t necessarily his fault.
“You know, I can’t say that I fault him for — maybe (just) the last goal before we pulled him,” Danowski said. “I thought that on (Wesley) Berg’s last goal, it kind of dribbled between his legs. He didn’t get his hands down quick enough. But other than that, a lot of dunks, a lot of inside, a lot of great shots.”
Aaron said he also reviewed the Denver game film and he saw some positive things and some areas where he needs improvement.
“It was one of those things where I was on it, but I wasn’t on it 100 percent,” Aaron said. “It’s one of those things where on a good day, a really good day, I would like to think that I would have gotten to at least a few of them.”
Thankful for the confidence the coaching staff is showing in him and ready for the challenge of the championship game, Aaron also knows how much Turri has helped the Blue Devils in the last two games.
“It’s one of those things where I’ve noticed we’ve gotten a spark from it,” Aaron said. “The whole team has. If that’s what it takes, I’m all for it. The team always comes first.”
A sophomore, Aaron’s save percentage is .505 for the season and he’s allowed 9.98 goals per game. Turri, a junior, has a .471 save percentage and a goals against average of 8.63 per game.
Last season, while leading Duke to the championship, Turri’s save percentage was .498 with a 9.59 goals against average.
So their production is very similar. That’s why when Denver scored three consecutive goals to trim Duke’s lead to 11-10 with 13:46 to play on Saturday, Danowski didn’t hesitate to turn to Turri.
“In the heat of the battle,” Danowski said, “it was, `Alright. Let’s make a change.’ But we’re very comfortable making a change. It’s not like we think that it’s going to be downgrade. It’s going to be equal or better at worst.”
Turri and Aaron appear to work well as a tandem as they both profess that anything that gets Duke a win is fine with them.
“We discuss everything at timeouts, everything that we’re both seeing, everything that we are seeing from the sidelines,” Turri said. “We keep each other on our feet.”
Given that Turri and Aaron have shared time during 12 of Duke’s 19 games this season, there’s a good chance both will see playing time in today’s NCAA final.
Neither has a problem with that. The same is true for Danowski.