MIDWEST REGIONAL FINAL: Duke (2) vs. Louisville (1) 5:05 p.m., CBS

Duke needs Cook to take control against Louisville

lkeeley@newsobserver.comMarch 30, 2013 

— During the Michigan State game, Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel was in Quinn Cook’s face during a timeout, imploring him to pick it up.

About 12 hours later, he was watching film with Cook, pumping him back up.

“We need him,” Capel said. “He’s been really, really good for us all year long. And he didn’t play well (Friday) night. In order for us to advance, we need him.”

In between the Blue Devils and their 12th Final Four is Louisville, the top overall seed in this year’s tournament. The game tips Sunday at 5:05 p.m. in Lucas Oil Stadium.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Louisville coach Rick Pitino have a lengthy history, dating back to Christian Laettner’s shot in 1992 to beat Kentucky. More recently, the two coached against each other in the Bahamas in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game, which Duke won 76-71. The outcome — which came when the Cardinals were without their starting center, Gorgui Dieng — isn’t meaningful now, both sides said, as each team has evolved since then. The familiarity, though, is helpful, Krzyzewski said.

Familiar could be good for Cook, who recorded 15 points and six assists (against four turnovers) en route to the MVP award for the three-day tournament.

That’s the type of performance Duke will need to beat the Cardinals, a team that hasn’t lost since its five-overtime thriller at Notre Dame on Feb. 9.

Cook struggled mightily in Duke’s Sweet 16 game against the Spartans and was benched for a six-minute stretch in the second half. He finished 0-for-5 from the field, scoreless with two assists against three turnovers.

Perhaps more troubling was his visible frustration both on the court and in the locker room after the game.

“Yesterday I was so upset with me making turnovers and (Keith) Appling scoring, I just think I failed at being a leader,” Cook said.

“I’ve been poised all year, and stuff like that can’t happen tomorrow, especially against a good team.”

And that’s why Capel attempted to rally Cook last night and in a morning film session Saturday. The message: be sharp.

“That’s the main thing. He’s got to get back to being sharp with everything that he does,” Capel said. “His execution, his command of the team, his ball handling, all those things.”

Cook said he talked to his mother Saturday night, who is in town watching her son chase his dream of going to the Final Four and winning a national championship. For the dream to continue, Cook, Tyler Thornton, Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon will have to contend with the intense ball pressure applied by Louisville’s Peyton Siva and Russ Smith.

The Cardinals attempt to push the tempo at both ends of the floor and are aggressive in disrupting passing lanes. Louisville ranks second in the nation in steals per possession — the Cardinals are successful in that endeavor 15.8 percent of the time. They also have the nation’s most efficient defense, according to statistician Ken Pomeroy.

The Blue Devils have experienced the pressure for themselves, even though it was an early-season version. And Duke has two big men in Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly that are capable enough ball handlers to take the pressure off the guards and break the press on their own.

Duke is more than capable of winning. But they will need the catalyst of their offense to rise to the occasion.

“It’s definitely going to be a championship feel, and that’s how we have to approach the game — as a championship,” Cook said.

“Those guys are going to be ready. We’re going to be ready.”

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