LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Even 11 months later, Louisville's historic collapse in a devastating 71-69 homecourt loss to Duke still stings for coach Chris Mack. We have proof from the man himself.
During Friday afternoon's press conference, Mack made it abundantly clear at the outset that he had no interest in revisiting the Cardinals' colossal collapse on the eve of the rematch. For those with amnesia, Louisville led Duke by 23 points with 9:55 remaining, but couldn't hang on as Duke rallied for the second-biggest comeback in school history and the biggest under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Several attempts to get Mack to open up about the defeat didn't go well.
CAN YOU TAKE MUCH FROM WATCHING LAST YEAR'S GAME?
“I don't know, I didn't watch it.”
IS THAT UNUSUAL FOR YOU NOT TO WATCH. . .?
BECAUSE IT WAS SUCH A TOUGH LOSS?
The loss may have had an impact beyond that game because the Cards never seemed to recover. They lost four of their next six regular-season games, the second game of the ACC Tournament and were bounced from the NCAA Tournament in the opening round by underdog Minnesota.
Now, having waited almost a year, No. 10 UofL (14-3, 5-1 ACC) gets a chance to exorcise the No. 3 Blue Devils (15-2, 5-1) when the teams meet for the only time in the regular season at 6 p.m. ET Saturday in Cameron Indoor Stadium with an ESPN College GameDay crew on hand and a national television audience looking on.
Louisville freshman guard David Johnson was playing in a game with his Trinity High School team and couldn't watch the UofL-Duke contest. But he has heard plenty about it this week from his teammates, who like their coach, are still irked by having let the Devils out of such a big hole.
"They said they remember how it felt last year," Johnson said. "It didn't feel good and they are glad to have the chance to come back for revenge."
The game has ramifications for the ACC race, with Duke, UofL and Florida State (15-2, 5-1) in a three-way tie for first place and looking very much like the trio that is going to fight it out for the championship in the top-heavy league. The Seminoles play at Miami Saturday afternoon.
The Cards are likely to catch the Devils in an ugly mood after Clemson snapped their nine-game winning streak with a 79-72 upset Tuesday night in a game that left them with a sour taste and determined to avoid a repeat.
"We were making soft plays, soft passes, all of us," freshman forward Cassius Stanley said. "It was unacceptable. We can't do it again."
Before that, winning had come easily for Duke, which had breezed to five straight ACC wins, rarely working up a sweat in winning by an average of 25 points. Duke still leads the league in scoring margin by far, having outpaced its six opponents by nearly 20 points per game (82.5-62.7). By comparision, UofL's margin is just seven ppg (71.7-64.7).
“Our kids have to understand how hard it is to win,” Krzyzewski told the media after the Clemson game. “When you are in our conference, all these teams are hungry. Sometimes when you win a lot, you are not as much as the other team. I thought that’s how the game started.”
Duke's 15 turnovers against Clemson led to the fewest points it has scored in a game since beating Kansas 68-66 in its season-opener on Nov. 5. The Blue Devils are averaging 82.5 points in ACC play. The errors, plus horrendous free throw shooting (10-20), led to Duke's downfall despite shooting 50 percent from the field.
"I think it just comes down to us," sophomore guard Tre Jones said. "It's nothing they did, really. They didn't do anything special. They weren't different than any other team and they weren't better than any other teams we've beat. It was on us and we didn't come to play."
Krzyzewski has preferred to use a 10-man rotation, but he was without injured guards Wendell Moore and Joey Baker, and Stanley (11.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg) was limited to 28 minutes by foul trouble. Krzyzewski, who said the lack of depth was a factor in the loss, expects Baker to play against UofL.
Duke is the only team in the nation ranked in the top 10 by KenPom in both offensive efficiency (3rd) and defensive efficiency (5th). The Blue Devils are fifth in the NCAA in scoring (83.1); ninth in field goal percentage (48.9); and fifth in blocked shots (6.4). They also shoot 40.7% from 3-point land while holding opponents to 27.6%.
Duke starts three freshmen, a sophomomre and a junior, and one of those rookies, 6-10, 270-pound Vernon Carey Jr., is its leading scorer (17.6) and rebounder (5.5). Jones is one of just two players in the country averaging 15.0+ points, 6.0+ assists, 4.0+ rebounds, 2.0+ steals and shooting 45 percent. (The other is Iowa State's Tyrese Haliburton).
Mack called Jones and 6-2 Jordan Goldwire two of the best perimeter defenders in the ACC and said Carey will obviously be a load for UofL big men Steven Enoch and Malik Williams to handle.
"They're throwing it right into Carey," Mack said. "He does a great job of running the floor, he seals incredibly deep, he has a great touch. We've got to limit his deep touches. He's going to touch the ball because that's their focus. But is he catching it three feet from the basket or is he catching it 10 feet away? We've got to do our work early and pressure the passers so they can't jsut find him under the hoop."
Mack said other keys for the Cards if they're to spring an upset and end a three-game losing streak to Duke include containing Jones, keeping the Blue Devils off the offensive boards and limiting turnovers.
Louisville has looked shaky in its last two outings, going down to the wire to beat Notre Dame (67-64) and Pittsburgh (73-68 OT), two of the worst teams in the ACC. The Cards haven't beaten a team with a winning record in league play and have lost all three games they've played against ranked teams outside of the KFC Yum! Center.
UofL and Duke have played one common opponent, and on the surface the results don't paint a pretty picture of Louisville's chances, especially on the road. Three days after the Devils annihilated Miami 95-62 in Florida, the Cards struggled with the Canes in the Yum before pulling away in the final minutes for a 74-58 win.
But afterwards Miami coach Jim Larranaga warned not to put too much stock in those two outcomes.
"The answer to that is really they were much better than us on (that day)," Larranaga said of Duke. "That doesn't have to do with how Louisville, Florida State, or Virginia will play them. Everybody has their own style and kids don't play the same way every night. We have a very hard time defensively and rebounding against everybody, and Duke was able to take advantage of both categories."
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.