Louisville's defense, penetration spell doom for Blue Devils
The point where everything seemed to be trending in Duke’s direction Sunday turned out to be the tipping point where Louisville took over for good.
A Louisville player flopped to the court after minimal contact, allowing Duke’s Mason Plumlee an easy slam dunk to tie the score with just over 16 minutes left.
Instead of taking off to reach the Final Four, though, No. 6 Duke faded away and saw its season end.
The Blue Devils didn’t make another field goal for a little more than eight minutes as the No. 2 Cardinals built a double-digit lead and posted an easy 85-63 win in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional final at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Louisville (33-5) reached the Final Four again by outscoring the Blue Devils (30-6) 20-4 over an eight minute, 13 second stretch following Plumlee’s basket that tied the game at 42-all.
“I thought we had a chance there. and then, boom,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “And that’s what they do to teams. They can boom you.”
Louisville is making a habit of lowering the boom. The Cardinals will ride into their second consecutive Final Four riding a 14-game winning streak.
They’ll do so after their backcourt, specifically guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva, dominated Duke on both ends of the court.
Smith, the Midwest Regional’s Most Outstanding Player, scored 23 points mostly due to his lightning-quick drives to the basket that Duke’s guards simply couldn’t stop.
Siva added 16 points while dishing out a team-best four assists.
Neither player made a 3-point shot, a testament to their ability to get in the lane and wreak havoc on Duke’s defense.
“They did a great job of using screens and hitting the open man,” Duke point guard Quinn Cook said. “Smith is probably the best player in the country off a ball screen. Siva did a good job in transition and finding the open man. They were the better team today.”
Having defeated Louisville 76-71 in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game in the Bahamas last November, the Blue Devils knew Smith and Siva were relentless. That didn’t make it any easier on Sunday.
“They just come at you for the whole game,” Duke senior guard Seth Curry said. “I mean, they’re attacking you and putting pressure on you. You try not to put them on the foul line. If you do that (play back on defense) they are going by you. So they’re a great backcourt and it was a tough test.”
Duke’s offense, conversely, failed to reach the rhythm the Blue Devils showed in most of their games this season.
Duke shot just 36.5 percent, its second-lowest shooting percentage day of the season. Only one other time, in a 62-61 win at Boston College on Feb. 10, did Duke score fewer than the 63 points it managed Sunday against Louisville.
“I felt if we could keep them out of transition and keep the 3 away from them,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said, “we had a great chance of winning.”
A 40.3 percent 3-point shooting team this season, Duke made only 4 of 16 (25 percent) against Louisville.
The misses from all angles were really lethal during the middle part of the second half after Plumlee’s slam forced a 42-42 tie, the 10th tie of the game.
Curry drew a charging foul against Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng, a turnover that gave Duke possession with a chance to take the lead.
But Curry, who scored 12 points, had his 3-point shot attempt blocked by Louisville’s Luke Hancock, a play that led to a fast break. Smith drove the lane, scored and drew a Tyler Thornton foul. His free throw put Louisville ahead for good at 45-42.
Whiel Duke failed to score on its next two possessions, Siva scored back-to-back baskets for Louisville and the Cardinals led 49-42.
Cook momentarily stopped the run with two free throws. But Dieng scored inside off a pass from Siva and, after a Curry miss, Siva grabbed the rebound and drove for a layup.
Dieng scored the game’s next six points, hitting two jumpers and tipping in a Montrezl Harrell miss, giving Louisville a commanding 59-44 lead with 9:40 left.
While making only 4 of its first 19 shots after halftime, Duke could never counterpunch.
“We let our offense affect our defense,” Plumlee said. “We were missing shots and we didn’t stick with our defense even though we were missing shots. I think that’s really what hurt us during that stretch.”
An all-ACC center, Plumlee closed his career with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Curry, having averaged 24 points over Duke’s first three NCAA Tournament wins, scored half that while making just 3 of 9 shots from the field.
“It seemed like the whole game when I caught it they were putting two bodies on me,” Curry said, “and the whole game they were switching everything and just being conscious of where I was at. It was kind of like a box-and-1.”
Having lost reserve guard Kevin Ware to a gruesome broken leg in the first half, Louisville still had more than enough to shut down Duke and send the Blue Devils home a win short of the Final Four.
“I love my team,” Krzyzewski said. “I wish we could have played better (Sunday). We needed to play a great game to win and we couldn’t do that.”
|LOUISVILLE 85, DUKE 63|
Percentages: FG .365, FT .750.
3-Point Goals: 4-16, .250 (Curry 2-4, Thornton 1-2, Kelly 1-5, Cook 0-1, Sulaimon 0-4).
Team Rebounds: 5.
Blocked Shots: 2 (Mas. Plumlee, Kelly).
Turnovers: 12 (Mas. Plumlee 5, Sulaimon 2, Murphy, Cook, Kelly, Hairston).
Steals: 4 (Sulaimon 2, Curry, Cook).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .527, FT .694.
3-Point Goals: 2-13, .154 (Henderson 1-1, Hancock 1-2, Behanan 0-1, Siva 0-2, Blackshear 0-3, Smith 0-4).
Team Rebounds: 2.
Blocked Shots: 9 (Dieng 4, Hancock, Harrell, Behanan, Blackshear, Siva).
Turnovers: 8 (Ware 3, Behanan 2, Dieng, Van Treese, Smith).
Steals: 10 (Behanan 3, Dieng 2, Smith 2, Siva, Blackshear, Ware).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials—Tony Greene, Doug Shows, Scott Thornley.