LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- As Aristotle, Plato or other Hall of Fame sports philosophers observed about facing Mike Tyson, everybody has a plan — until they get hit in the mouth.
Duke hit Louisville in the mouth over the final nine-plus minutes of a game the Cardinals led by 23 points Tuesday night.
Louisville did not have a plan.
That’s not a piling on from press row.
That’s the analysis from the guy who did not have the plan: Chris Mack, the Cardinals’ head coach.
It was the blunt and convincing take from Mack on Friday afternoon after he had 63 hours to marinate on Louisville’s jarring, 71-69, come-from-ahead loss to the team many believe will win the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
“The first thing I'd tell you is my job is to take full ownership of how our team played in the last 10 minutes, last, really, 6 1/2 minutes,” Mack said. “And as hard as that was to swallow, our team lost confidence in the moment, and my teams generally haven't been that way, but it's my job to figure out why.
“I think confidence comes from preparation, having been in those situations before, whether it's zone press, whether it's a zone, whatever it is, being in those moments before and recognizing how to get yourself out of it.
“We didn't prepare with some of the things that Duke brought to the fight in the last six minutes, because they had never shown it on tape, and I beat myself up for that. What they had shown on tape the entire year, we dismantled for 34 minutes.
“So it was tough to swallow, because everything they had shown on tape, they didn't have one answer for when we played them.
“Now, what they didn't show on tape, I didn't have an answer for our guys, and it was part spacing. But it was a big part of having confidence in that moment, and that's where I told our team I failed them as a coach
“But I'll be better the next time, and they'll be better the next time.”
In a world where we’re conditioned to coaches blaming their players, officials, injuries, the flu, the NCAA, the schedule, tip times, the media, social media, Roger Goodell and global warming for each and every misery, you could rank this response as Mack’s finest moment as the Louisville coach — even in a season when his team has won 17 of 25 games.
It certainly separated him from the coach who occupied his office for 16 seasons before Mack arrived. Mack did not accept responsibility without accepting responsibility, if you know what I mean.
Blame Mack for the Cardinals getting outscored 35-10 down the stretch.
He had a perfect plan for everything that Mike Krzyzewski, Zion Williams, Cam Reddish, R. J. Barrett threw at the Cardinals for the first 30 minutes.
He failed to have a plan for the 2-2-1 full-court press that Duke employed to induce panic from the Cardinals, panic that resulted in nine turnovers over 18 possessions.
John Wooden, Dean Smith, Bob Knight and Rick Pitino all lost games their teams should have won.
Ditto for Tony Bennett (UMBC), Mike Krzyzewski (Mercer), Tom Izzo (Middle Tennessee) and John Calipari (Wisconsin).
Let me repeat: It happens.
We can start to evaluate the effects of the Duke defeat on Mack and his guys Saturday at noon when the Cardinals welcome Clemson to the KFC Yum! Center.
But we won’t have a final answer for weeks or perhaps until the season ends in March or April.
The initial signs from Mack were encouraging.
He did that. No blame game. No gaps in his post-script.
Offer perspective. He did that by reminding everybody of the obvious truth from the first 30 minutes, that Louisville handled Duke miles better than anybody handled Coach K’s team this season.
Look at Feb. 16, not Feb. 12.
Mack did that, too. Unlike most post-game situations, the Cardinals watched zero video of the Duke Debacle.
“We talked about it,” said Christen Cunningham, Louisville’s senior point guard. “We didn’t watch video as a team
“Usually we do, but we were off the next day after the Duke game. So we came back and two days before we always start to practice for the next game.”
“It was replayed a thousand times, so for us to go play by play and inflict more hurt to our guys. . .that was a decision I made as a coach,” Mack said.
“It's unusual. Sometimes you watch tape from the game before … then sometimes you make a decision not to. Could be a big win, could be a loss, but I just felt there were some other important things to talk about, not necessarily show them on tape.”
In other words, Mack did not have a plan for the unlikely full-court pressure Duke clamped on his team down the stretch Tuesday night.
Mack does have a plan to get his guys to do everything right against Clemson, Syracuse and Virginia rather than obsess abut the floundering finish against Duke.
“I don’t think it’s something that’s going to plague our team,” Cunningham said.
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