GREENSBORO — When future NCAA opponents watch the tape from No. 7 Dukes 72-63 loss to sixth-ranked Virginia in the ACC championship game, there likely will be two takeaways.
The Blue Devils are at their best when Jabari Parker is aggressive.
Dukes defense was ineffective, allowing the Cavaliers to score on 16 of their final 18 possessions.
There was a time during the second half when it appeared Duke could be headed for victory. Coach Mike Krzyzewski called timeout with Duke holding a one-point lead, implored his team to keep fighting, get stops and, most importantly, grab some rebounds. Then Virginia coach Tony Bennett put in Akil Mitchell, and his toughness around the basket led the Cavaliers to their second ACC championship and first since 1976.
Mitchell put a stop to Parkers brief run of dominance, a 7-0 stretch that proved he can be the best player in the ACC, if not the country, when he reaches his top level. That run, though, came while Mitchell was on the bench. During the six minutes Mitchell rested, Parker went 4-for-7 from the field. But with Mitchell guarding him, he went 5-for-17.
After the game, Krzyzewski pointed out something else about Parkers stats line.
He took 24 shots and only three free throws, Krzyzewski said, pausing for emphasis, letting people glance at their stats sheets and see that Virginia missed more free throws (13, shooting 25-of-38) than Duke attempted (7-for-11).
That wasnt Krzyzewskis only issue with the officials. Late in the first half, he was working on the refs, per usual, and Jamie Luckie later told the broadcast table that he warned Krzyzewski to bring things down. Krzyzewski, with his back turned to Luckie, threw his marker, and Luckie gave him a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct. Krzyzewski couldnt believe it, arms spread wide as he asked for an explanation of what he had done.
He still couldnt explain it after the game.
I have no clue. None, he said.
When it was pointed out that he threw his marker, he said, Yeah, but you can throw a clipboard, too. I didnt do it in reaction to anything. I can hit my head on the floor. I can do a handstand. I can tumble, as long as its not a reaction to anybody.
Theres no way that there should be a technical foul on that. I mean, that was ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. Shameful. Shameful.
Back to Parker, though. At halftime, he was 2-of-10 from the field with eight points and three rebounds. One of his shots was a step-back 3-pointer with a hand in his face and the shot clock winding down. The basket tied the score at 19 with 3 minutes, 53 seconds left in the half.
Then in the second, with Mitchell on the bench, he went on his personal 7-0 run with a steal and a block. The steal came in front of the Cavaliers bench, as Parker took it the length of the floor, finishing with a one-handed slam. He sank a 3 on Dukes next possession and drove to the lane on the one after, giving Duke a 47-46 lead.
Then Krzyzewski called timeout, Mitchell came back, and Parker finished the game 1-for-6 with four rebounds (two on each end), one assist and one turnover. Mitchell picked up four rebounds and scored four points on putbacks during that stretch. Mitchell displayed an ability to finish that no Duke player other than Amile Jefferson came close to matching the Blue Devils got the looks they wanted, but too often the close-range shots wouldnt fall.
In a disappointed locker room, Jefferson ran through a list of what Duke must to going forward, based off of what it lacked against the Cavaliers.
Playing together, being tough, feeding off one another, nobody feeling like theyre alone on defense and rebounding as a unit, gang rebounding, he said. Weve got to be tougher than the opponents we play.
Its not coming down to how talented you are in March, its about how much fight do you have right now, how much do you want to win, how much do you want to play that one more game, then the next game and the next game.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley