Duke had four days to rest, recover and prepare for its game at N.C. State. And the emphasis was placed on that last one.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski knew the Blue Devils weren’t going to be able to guard Wolfpack point guard Cat Barber one-on-one. He’s just too quick for one man to keep in front of him on the way to the basket. Add in that Barber is connecting on his jump shots, too, and Duke had a matchup nightmare.
So the Blue Devils went to a 2-3 matchup zone for most of the game.
Duke had played zone against Georgetown and Yale, but that was with now-injured Amile Jefferson in the lineup. So over the five-day break from games, the Blue Devils installed a new defense. There are similarities to last year’s 2-3 zone, but this year’s version takes advantage of Duke’s increased length on the perimeter and extended out further onto N.C. State’s shooters.
“We had good preparation time,” Krzyzewski said. “Whether it be a zone press or going from zone to man, zone—you can’t do that in one day.”
Krzyzewski knew the Blue Devils couldn’t sit back and wait for Barber to bring the ball up the floor and start State’s halfcourt offense. He needed to feel pressure immediately in the backcourt. That’s where the press came in, as Matt Jones, Derryck Thornton and Brandon Ingram took turns closely guarding Barber in attempts to make him give up the ball to break the press.
“It worked enough,” Krzyzewski said.
Barber still made plenty of plays in the first half, scoring 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting. But an inadvertent knee bump with Brandon Ingram about five minutes into the second half limited Barber the rest of the game. He missed all three of his jump shots after that and was unable to blow past Duke defenders. Krzyzewski acknowledged that the injury undoubtedly was a factor in limiting his effectiveness.
“You could see something happened,” Krzyzewski said. “We just told our guys to deny it back to him and try not to let him go on you. He’s so dangerous, he’s really ... good.”
The Blue Devils won’t face another guard quite like Barber, but those defensive wrinkles will be available for later use. Duke also had the side benefit of providing change for a team that desperately needed to break after a three-game losing streak. When a team isn’t catching any breaks – Duke lost those three games by a combined 11 points – any change can provide a spark.
And it helps that the Blue Devils have complete faith in whatever Krzyzewski tells them.
“We are playing under the greatest coach in the world right now,” Brandon Ingram said. “We knew that we were going to make a change, and we believed in it every game defensively. So we went into it, we bought in, and we did everything he asked us to do.”