Mike Krzyzewskis adjustments lead Dukes comeback

Hall of Fame coach ducks credit, but players point to defensive schemes

Brad Penner—X02835
Mar 9

BROOKLYN — With 13 minutes left in the ACC Quarterfinal game against Louisville, Duke trailed by 12 points against Louisville.The Blue Devils had battled injury and fatigue all year, and the reward for winning would have been a third war with North Carolina in about 26 hours. There would have been no shame in shutting things down and looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament.Instead of looking for a place to fall down, however, Duke dug in and staged an improbable comeback, beating the Cardinals 81-77 and advancing to the semis against the Tar Heels.”I had so much fun coaching our team today,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said afterward. “I felt like a little kid, man. They were fun to coach. They gave everything. You wanted to not get in their way really. That’s why we just called motion, 12 and play. That’s a big time coaching strategy. And our kids just played. They played. It’s all on them. They played great. They deserved to win.”Well, not entirely. As it turned out, the Hall of Fame coach, who, with the win, moved past Dean Smith to become the ACC Tournament’s winningest coach, may have had something to do with it.The Blue Devils switched to zone defense, confounding the Cardinals. Louisville’s next four shots were three-pointers, all misses, as Duke cut the deficit to four. Louisville would go on to miss their final nine three-pointers of the game.”Just being able to make changes on the fly,” Amile Jefferson said of the comeback. “Make adjustments and go with it. They were scoring a lot in the paint. The zone helped to keep them from just dropping the ball down there and getting easy buckets.Krzyzewski, though, responded to the X and O talk with an aw shucks.”Well, any port in a storm, so to speak,” he said of the zone. “We could not stop them in transition in man. They come down so hard. I don’t know if our guys got tired, you know, because we had a tough game against Clemson yesterday. So I just thought maybe we could just run back there, everybody try to stop them.”Krzyzewski also didn’t take credit for Louisville’s long-range struggles.”And they missed some shots,” he said. “It’s not like we played a great zone, but it changed, a little, the tempo.”On Louisville’s final possession of the game, the Cardinals brought the ball up, down three points, with 22 seconds remaining. They were met with stifling man-to-man pressure from the Blue Devils.Louisville big man Mangok Mathiang got the ball in the high post and looked for a shooter to kick to, but with Duke players everywhere, Mathiang held the ball, baffled as seconds ticked away. All Louisville could muster was an off-balanced shot by Quentin Snider that didn’t come close—and may have been ruled a two on replay anyway.”We went back to man, because we didn’t want to give up an open three,” Krzyzewski said. “So we could switch everything. And our guys, really, that was like the possession of the game defensively for us when we — our guys switched everything.””We were able to mix and match different things,” Luke Kennard said. “We were able to throw different things at them in different situations during the game, and we were able to execute what coach told us to do. Then we made some big plays, got some stops and momentum kind of shifted our way. When that happens, great teams take it, and that’s what we did.””It was a great win,” Jefferson said, “and those little changes, those little nuances allowed us to get it.”Despite what his coach would have you believe.