Duke’s schedule set up favorably: four days off, game at N.C. State Saturday, game at Miami Monday, seven days off. So Mike Krzyzewski pushed his team hard leading up to the game against the Wolfpack with the hope that the momentum could carry over into Monday’s game as well.
“We pushed it this week a little bit more than we would normally push it because there is an ending, and we can get them refreshed after,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s just how we are going to have to do it. Like, which round can we win? Can we win a round or two now?”
No. 20 Duke (15-5, 4-3 ACC) was able to end its three-game losing streak Saturday in Raleigh with an 88-78 win. Round two comes Monday at No. 15 Miami (15-3, 4-2).
The break from game action was well-timed for Duke and its six-man rotation. The rest was nice, but it wasn’t the biggest benefit.
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“It helped us be fresh, but it also helped us get some good practices in,” Grayson Allen said. “You can get into playing a lot of games where you don’t get to practice much and don’t get to practice that hard, especially with a limited number of guys. We got to practice real hard during that stretch and get some good preparation.”
Duke was able to go hard last week, with contact and full 5-on-5 drills. The Blue Devils also ran extra after every practice to work on their conditioning. And the staff was able to install Duke’s matchup 2-3 zone defense and work on the transition from the zone-press into that look and man-to-man.
“We had good preparation time,” Krzyzewski said.
Still, there were still some drills that the coach felt were off-limits.
“I can’t have loose ball drills,” he said. “I can’t have take the charge drills. I can’t have two-on-one rebounding and who is the man who is going to get it? You can’t do that because someone is going to get hurt.”
Duke’s aggressive, full-court defense did take more energy than a more passive look that doesn’t pick up until halfcourt. But that’s what the Blue Devils felt they had to do to try and slow down N.C. State’s Cat Barber. And that had to happen to get a much-needed win after losing three straight.
After the game, Allen was asked if the win saved Duke’s season. He laughed.
“It’s a long season,” he said. You can’t put it all on one game.”
But when asked if Duke needed the game in Raleigh…
“Definitely,” Allen said. “It can turn around really quickly and go south. It was a really big win for us.”
This two-games-in-three-days stretch is like a sprint for Duke. It’s going to require a high-intensity effort for a relatively short amount of time, and after that there is a week to rest and recover. Knowing that makes pushing through more bearable.
“We’re marginalized in depth and some experience,” Krzyzewski said. “But not in heart, effort and togetherness.”