Losing is not in Duke’s DNA this time of year.
College basketball’s biggest early-season giant was back at its November/December dominance again, running the Battle 4 Atlantis gauntlet to collect another treasure for Mike Krzyzewski’s hardware display.
In the first meeting because Krzyzewski and fellow coaching legend Rick Pitino since their fabled Elite Eight matchup of the 1992 NCAA tournament [while Pitino was at Kentucky and Christian Laettner was the star at Duke], Coach K’s Blue Devils outlasted the pesky and undermanned Cardinals, 76-71, to capture the Battle 4 Atlantis crown.
Twitter-compatible recap: Duke nursed 8-10 point lead for most of game until Dieng-less Cards stormed back w/Siva on bench. Quinn Cook ices game w/clutch final minute
Call him ‘Captain Clutch.’ After Louisville took its first lead since the game’s opening minutes midway through the second half on a Russ Smith triple, Duke point guard Quinn Cook immediately responded with a trey of his own. Cook took control in the game’s final minute, helping the Blue Devils seal the game. He knocked down a critical floater in the lane with 30 seconds to play to grow a one possession lead to two. The breakout sophomore repeated the act the next trip down the floor, sinking two free throws to again expand a three-point lead to five. Then he did a third time for good measure, swishing another pair of free throws with just seconds remaining to make it a two possession game and put the Cardinals away for good. A deserving recipient of the Battle 4 Atlantis top player award, Cook could own the distinction as an all-time Duke player down the line at the rate he’s improving.
Tired legs. You couldn’t tell by the helter-skelter pace this game took on through stretches at a time, but judging by the shooting performances, both teams felt the effects of playing three games in three days. The normally deadeye Devils were off all night from behind the arc, connecting on just five of the team’s 20 3-point attempts. Seth Curry, dealing with shin splints that he’ll have to cope with throughout the season, couldn’t find the touch (3-11 FG, 2-9 3FG) while Rasheed Sulaimon, who came into the game shooting better than 45-percent from downtown, hit just one of his six tries. Louisville was wise to lay off the 3-ball altogether. The Cards attempted just eight triples, making two.
Duke’s pitch for No. 1 ranking: No one else in the country has compiled a résumé that even belongs in the same file as Duke’s this early in the season. The Blue Devils own wins over a pair of preseason top-3 teams, a quartet of [likely] NCAA tournament-bound teams and four schools in Ken Pomeroy’s Top 25 heading into the event. They’ve won close games and won going away; they’ve won playing fast and triumphed playing slow; they’ve won against teams with stellar backcourts, then matched that success against teams armed with formidable frontcourts. Duke will be ranked No. 1 on Monday in the newest Busting Brackets Top 25.