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 offensively. 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 in the final half in their 85-63 win to earn the last spot in the Final Four. The Blue Devils went more than six minutes without a field goal, and Louisville went on a 20-4 run during that stretch.
I believed with everything I had that we were going to win the whole thing, said Mason Plumlee, who finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds. All it takes is one game and youre out.
Louisville guards Peyton Siva (16 points) and Russ Smith (23 points) were unstoppable, driving into the lane at will. With the score tied at 42-42, the duo scored six straight points.
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 early in the second. But Rick Pitino instructed his team to set screens higher and for his post player to set low screens on Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, preventing them from getting up the court and picking up the ballhandler.
At halftime, he was actually telling us how to adjust, and I was trying to cut him off like, Coach, theyre playing us like this, Siva said. Hes like, can you listen to me? I got this.
Adding to the defensive issues for Duke was Louisville center Gorgui Dieng, who started hitting long jump shots from the free throw line and near the top of the key to complement Siva and Smiths 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 second half, Duke was 6-of-21 (28.6 percent) from the field. The offensive struggles began to feed into the defensive troubles, Plumlee said. 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.
Kellys presence made breaking Louisvilles press significantly easier for Duke, but foul trouble limited his minutes while the game was still competitive. He 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. They had also aimed to limit Curry, who had zero first-half point and finished with 12 on 3-of-9 shooting from the floor.
The first half, though, was defined by Louisville guard Kevin Wares 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.
We did feel like we were in good shape, Plumlee said.
But Pitino made the key defensive adjustment by moving the screens up the floor, essentially the checkmate in the high-level coaching chess game. The athleticism of Siva and Smith was too much, especially with Kelly in foul trouble, Curry bottled up, and Cook and Sulaimon shooting 4-of-21 from the floor.
Ive been doing this for a long time, Krzyzewski said. Man, they were good. Bottom line, theyre really good.
Russ Smith was voted the most valuable player of the Midwest Regional all-Tournament team. Louisville's Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng and Duke's Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry made up the rest of the team.
Louisville did not cut down the nets in Lucas Oil Stadium. The Cardinals didn't cut them down when they won the Big East championship in Madison Square Garden, either. They're waiting for Atlanta.
When Chris Collins shook hands with Louisville head coach Rick Pitino after the game, he said, "win the whole thing."
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley