BOZICH | Louisville, Pitino left wondering how Duke game slipped - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Louisville, Pitino left wondering how Duke game slipped away

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Jayson Tatum scored two of his 25 points against U of L's  Ray Spalding (left) and Mangok Mathiang. (AP Photo.) Jayson Tatum scored two of his 25 points against U of L's Ray Spalding (left) and Mangok Mathiang. (AP Photo.)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (WDRB) – Rick Pitino didn’t need to check the Barclays Center scoreboard to know his team was better than Duke. He’d been telling friends the same thing from the moment his team arrived in New York City for the ACC Tournament.

Better than Duke. Better than North Carolina. Better than (fill in the blank).

The best team in the league. A team that had the computer profile to pursue a Number One seed for the NCAA Tournament if it could win three games here this weekend.

Imagine what Pitino thought after Deng Adel flashed into the lane for a three-point play that put the Cardinals ahead by a dozen with about 13 minutes to play.

This is what Pitino said he thought on the U of L radio network after the game, according to Bob Valvano:

That Louisville was primed to win by 20.

Louisville did not win by 20.

“We lost this game ourselves,” said guard Donovan Mitchell.

Louisville did not win by one.

Louisville lost by four – 81-77 – putting coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team, not Pitino’s in the semifinals Friday night against North Carolina.

“When you know you’re supposed to win a game, it’s just disappointing, especially when you lose the way we did,” U of L guard David Levitch said. “We were in control. We lost the game because we didn’t do things we can control and that’s what hurt us.”

“We really played well today,” Pitino said. “I can tell you I’m heartbroken we lost today because we’ve become a very, very good offensive basketball team, and we have struggled with our offense … We thought we were the better basketball team and we were hoping to win this tournament.”

What happened?

The list can be as long or as compact as you would like:

*The Cards missed too many free throws (11 of 26). Seven Louisville players went to the line. All seven misfired at least one time. Three failed to make half their attempts.

Won’t work. Not in tournament games which often are decided by a play, a whistle, a twitch.

“Missing those free throws is heart-breaking,” said U of L forward Ray Spalding, who missed two of three.

“We’re not working on it enough,” Mitchell said. “That’s all it is. We’ve got to stay in the gym more and keep focusing and knock down the free throws and in the gym late at night.”

*They missed too many three-point field goal attempts (17 of 21). Four Louisville players attempted shots from distance. Not one guy made better than a third of his attempts.

The shots certainly were not falling for Mitchell (1 for 7) and guard Quentin Snider (1-6), including the attempt Snider missed trying to tie the game in the final six seconds.

*They lost their offensive poise and mojo after Coach K switched Duke to a zone defense in the second half.

“Once the zone hit, we weren’t ready,” Mitchell said. “We stopped getting the ball to the low post.”

The Cards went from leading 61-49 to trailing 65-64. They missed six of their next seven field-goal attempts. Five misses were from distance by Mitchell and Snider. The only basket was a layup by Spalding.

“I don’t know what happened,” said U of L center Anas Mahmoud. “We usually play better against a zone. Today it wasn’t good for us. We missed a couple of shots during that stretch. Teams have runs and we just couldn’t stop their run.”

“Coach said we needed to focus on attacking more down the stretch than we did,” Spalding said.

*Too many personal fouls (23), a situation that always leaves players and coaches shaking their heads.

The three most memorable calls came in a seven-second stretch. All three went against Louisville. They only resulted in three Duke points, but that was the stretch when the Blue Devils took control.

First, a call against Mitchell, for hooking the arm of Duke’s Jayson Tatum as Tatum reached for a pass at least 20 feet from the basket. Mitchell did not believe it was a foul, but did concede it was silly to contest a pass in that situation for his fourth foul.

“He said I pushed him,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t think so. But he said I did. But I’m not going to blame the refs for anything at all. It was not a smart play. I put the ref in position to make a call.

“It was a silly foul. As a leader, you can’t make those silly mistakes.”

Pitino replaced him with David Levitch. Krzyzewski immediately isolated Levitch against Allen, who drove into the lane. Allen appeared to initiate contact with his right arm, but Allen got the call.

“I reached out and he just kind of kept going,” Levitch said. “I just kind of kept going. Little ticky tack stuff.

“He threw his body into me and I just slapped down and he just kept going. I just kept going with him.”

Several seconds later it was Allen against Levitch again, this time back in the right corner. Allen missed a three with Levitch in his grill. Allen went down, without any apparent assistance from Levitch.

Flop? Several of us watched the replay after the game. Looked that way.

Allen got the call – again.

*Too much individual offensive ability by Duke, especially by Jayson Tatum (25 points, Luke Kennard (24) and Allen (18).

That last part of the equation is going to happen. If I had the first pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, I’d take Tatum. Kennard is a first-team all-American. Allen was the national pre-season player of the year. Chances are this won’t be the final time this season those three combine to score 67 points.

“We just made dumb plays,” Levitch said. “We didn’t rebound on a defensive free throw and they made a three. We just hurt ourselves. We gave them the game.

“Credit to them. They made shots. But we helped them with plays we didn’t make.”

There are no plays for Louisville to make for at least six more days for Louisville. The Cards will discover their destination for the NCAA Tournament Sunday. Most forecasts project Louisville as a three- or two-seed, possibly starting play in Indianapolis.

“Losing like this when you know you could have come out with a victory and then move on and play North Carolina tomorrow is tough,” Mahmoud said. “We had a huge opportunity to win the tournament and potentially be a number one seed. We were a little off today but we still could have won.

“But the NCAA starts next week so there’s no time to cry about it.”

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