BOZICH | Even Pitino pleased by Louisville's defense in Duke win - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Even Pitino pleased by Louisville's defense in Duke win

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This Donovan Mitchell steal from Duke's Grayson Allen stirred a second-half surge by Louisville. (AP Photo.) This Donovan Mitchell steal from Duke's Grayson Allen stirred a second-half surge by Louisville. (AP Photo.)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — It was only 14 seconds of basketball, less than one-half of a percent of the 40-minute scrum that Louisville and Duke staged at the KFC Yum! Center Saturday afternoon.

But it was 14 seconds that revealed why Louisville would charge to a 78-69 victory over the Blue Devils.

Two Duke turnovers.

Two Louisville steals.

Two Duke moments of utter confusion.

Two Louisville forceful baskets at the rim.

"We had a few possessions where we just tired them out," said Donovan Mitchell, U of L's sophomore guard.

"Maybe they hadn't played anybody that played defense like we do," Louisville center Anas Mahmoud said.

Duke and its string of McDonald’s all-Americans brought 16 NBA scouts to the house. Several scouts sat along the baseline before the game, taking extra notes on the Blue Devils' players.

Louisville and its string of fearless defenders brought Blue Devils’ coach Jeff Capel out of his seat pleading for a timeout after the revealing stretch that began with 16:05 left in the second half and ended 14 seconds later.

Duke shot 47 percent and lost because Louisville’s defense was persistent and unsettling, tormenting the Blue Devils into 18 turnovers while limiting them to seven offensive rebounds (only two in the first half).

It was the most turnovers Duke has made this season. The seven offensive rebounds were four fewer than the Blue Devils averaged in their first 17 games. Don't forget this: Duke also made only five three-point shots, which tied the Blue Devils' season low.

"We took the three-pointer away," Mahmoud said. "Everybody knows how good Duke and their three-point shooting is. We just played team defense. Everybody helped everybody. Three or four times we made four or five rotations. We knew we weren’t going to let them get a shot off until they worked for it."

Consider it a reminder that there is more to playing winning defense that making your opponents miss shots. Make them uncomfortable with the basketball. Make them ineffective around the rim.

That is what Louisville did while winning this game. 

Here’s what happened in those 14 revealing seconds: With Louisville ahead, 39-37, Duke guard Grayson Allen decided it was the perfect moment to flash into the lane for a game-tying basket.

Moving from right to left, Allen tried to switch the basketball to his off hand. Some defenders might allow that to happen. Donovan Mitchell was not one of those defenders.

"We just know when he ducks his head (he's going to drive)," Mitchell said. "When he puts his head down, he’s not pulling up. When you watch the film, he doesn’t pull up when he puts his head down."

"With Allen, force him left," said U of L guard Quentin Snider. "He can go left, but he’s not as strong as his right hand."

Realizing Allen was using his left hand, Mitchell tipped the ball away from Allen, who fell sharply to the floor, bouncing his nose off the unforgiving wood. It was one of six turnovers made by Allen, the most he has committed in a game this season.

Soon the ball rolled into the eager hands of Snider, who advanced it to V.J. King, who scored.

The Cardinals were not finished. 

This time it was Snider, another guy who rarely retreats, who snuck between Duke’s Luke Kennard and a pass near the Louisville bench.

What's the word on Kennard?

"Forcing Kennard to the right," Snider said. "Play him to his right hand. Just handling certain players."

Kennard was handled. Snider stole the basketball. 

Again, Snider did not hold his prize long, sharing it with Raymond Spalding who scored.

Four points in 14 dynamic seconds, four points that pushed Louisville’s lead to 43-37, a lead the Cardinals would never surrender.

Rick Pitino’s team improved to 15-3 overall but 3-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, one game better than Duke, which has lost three of its first five ACC games.

Think about this: Louisville won on a day when the Cardinals missed 13 of their first 18 shots, four of their first five free throws and their first five three-point attempts.

They did that because they defend as well as any team in the nation.

Pitino does not like the way his guys defend opposing players on their first dribble. The coach has complained about their technique after multiple games.

Nothing to complain about against Duke.

"I just think we played intelligent defense the entire game, which we haven't done," Pitino said. "We didn't back up.

"We knew they were going to beat us off the bounce. We took away the high post pass and they started running over and we fouled them too much. Then we changed that."

Louisville made scoring a chore for Allen, Kennard and the Blue Devils’ other McDonald’s all-Americans.

They knew which Blue Devils to crowd and which guys to give space to launch.

I’ll stop here and remind you that Duke shot a solid percentage. In fact, the Blue Devils were making better than 50 percent of their attempts for the first 37 minutes. Duke finished 22 for 47 (nearly 47 percent), making 5 of a dozen shots from distance.

But eight Duke players lost the basketball. Allen, the Duke player most likely to attack, lost the basketball six times. Kennard, his sharp and shifty sidekick in the backcourt, threw it away three times. Overcall, Duke had 10 more turnovers than assists.

Yes, they scored 40 points (23 by Allen) but they were not a winning 40 points because the Blue Devils could not sustain momentum while losing the basketball. 

Not on a day Mahmoud had 17 and was backed with 15 from Mitchell and 13 by Snider -- and Louisville only lost the basketball 11 times.

“We play more system," Mahmoud. "We play more team defense. That shows how great our team is. As long as we get the W that’s all that matters. I think we showed today that we’re as good as everybody."

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