INDIANAPOLIS — For 24 minutes, Duke played Louisville to an even draw. Both teams had elaborate, technical game plans to prevent the other from doing what they do best offensive. Both teams made adjustments, and the score was knotted in a dead heat.
Then everything started to go wrong for Duke, and it spiraled out of control.
The Cardinals took control early the final half in their 85-63 win. The Blue Devils went more than six minutes without a field goal, and Louisville went on a 20-4 run during that stretch.
Louisville guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith were unstoppable, driving into the lane at will.
"They did a great job using the screens and hitting the open man," Quinn Cook said. "Smith is probably the best player in the country off the ball screen. Siva did a good job in transition and finding the open man."
Duke had been successful in forcing the Cardinals toward the baseline off of screens in the first half and then early in the second. But Rick Pitino instructed his team to set screens higher and for his post player to set low screens on Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, preventing them from getting up the court and picking up the ballhandler.
"At haltime, he was actually telling us how to adjust, and I was trying to cut him off like, Coach, they're playing us like this," said Siva, who finished with 16 points. "He's like, can you listen to me?" I got this."
With the score 42-42, Smith drove by Tyler Thornton, who fouled him as he went by. Ryan Kelly couldn't take advantage of a mismatch with Smith on him at the other end, and Siva sank a long 2. A Kelly turnover and Chane Behanan offensive rebound set up a Siva lay-up, forcing Mike Krzyzewski to call a timeout with his team then trailing 49-42.
The simultaneous offensive and defensive failing for Duke continued--Plumlee said it was the missed shots on offensive that disrupted the defense--as Louisville center started hitting a long jump shots from the free throw line and near the top of the key to complement Siva and Smith's drives inside. The 17-footer from the 6-foot-11 Dieng gave the Cardinals a 13-point lead with 11:04 left on the clock.
Through the first 16 minutes of the half, Duke was 6-of-21 (28.6 percent) from the field. Prior to the dry spell that began with the score tied 42-42, the offensive had been clicking at a high rate, with Seth Curry scoring eight points in just under two minutes and Mason Plumlee dunking over a flopping Dieng.
Kelly's presence made breaking Lousiville's press significantly easier for Duke, but foul trouble limited his minutes while the game was still competitive. Kelly picked up his third foul with 8:09 left in the first half and played just eight minutes in the opening period. The Cardinals had aimed to get him in foul trouble, and it worked.
The first half, though, was defined by Louisville guard Keven Ware's gruesome compound fracture in his right leg. Ware jumped to defend a Tyler Thornton 3-pointer and collapsed in a heap. Lying on his back right in front of the Louisville bench, his right tibia was sticking through his skin.
After an eight-minute delay, Ware was wheeled off the court in a stretcher with a medical device protecting his shin, protruding from his leg, covered by a towel. Louisville led 21-20 at that point, with 6:39 left in the half. The Cardinals went into the break with a 35-32 edge.
Duke evened the score at 42-42 thanks to Curry and Plumlee, but that was as close as the Blue Devils got to a 12th Final Four trip.
"I love my team," Krzyzewski said. "I wish we could have played better today. We needed to play a great game to win, and we couldn't do that."
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley