Champions Classic: Duke Teaches Kentucky a Lesson in Atlanta

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Kentucky’s freshmen strutted into their one-day seminar in Atlanta with a sense of false entitlement. They were, after all, the defending national champs—heirs to the prestige of last year’s title-winning team.

By midnight Tuesday, those once-smug freshmen had become humble pupils. It was at that time when Professors Curry, Plumlee and Kelly had finished forcefully delivering their lesson.

Nov 13, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Mason Plumlee (5) puts the ball up defended by Kentucky Wildcats forward Nerlens Noel (3) in the second half of the 2012 Champions Classic at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Paul Abell-US PRESSWIRE

Seniors Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee took charge offensively while Ryan Kelly’s praiseworthy defense on Kyle Wiltjer put the young Cats on the ropes, as veteran-laden Duke fended off a late Kentucky rally to win the nightcap of the Champions Classic doubleheader, 75-68. In the everlasting rivalry between experience and youth (i.e. hammer versus nail), chalk another one up to the wily vets.

Duke’s teachings on Tuesday night offered an insight into what constitutes championship character, all the while showing a young Kentucky team precisely what it’s lacking to this point. Even the UK head coach himself should have his pad out, ready to jot down notes.

John Calipari could learn a thing or two about maturity from Duke. Calipari, after all, spouted off about the Blue Devils’ propensity for flopping during a halftime interview with ESPN’s Andy Katz, then backed off his remarks in the postgame presser, shrugging them off as a “joke.” That one missed a punch line.

Mike Krzyzewski didn’t take the bait. He instead reclassified Calipari’s idea of flopping as “awesome charges,” noting the difference between a flop (no contact) and charge (contact). If only Calipari had that type of restraint.

While Coach Cal sifts through his Duke handbook on maturity, some of his players could benefit from the signature toughness Duke displayed in front of a partisan Kentucky crowd at the Georgia Dome.

Curry, battling shin splints that will limit him in practice all season, scored 23 herculean points, while Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow, dealing with “no energy,” as his head coach characterized his condition, didn’t play. There’s a baseline level of toughness and spunk that any championship-caliber team must possess. And as long as Ryan Harrow is sitting out games because his energy isn’t quite up to par, this Kentucky team currently doesn’t meet that standard.

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