As Louisville kept missing shot after shot Saturday afternoon, Duke guard Quinn Cook wasn’t lulled into thinking the Blue Devils’ defense was solely responsible.
“For me, it’s a little scary, because it’s the law of averages,” Cook said. “That’s how I think as a shooter. They’re bound to hit some soon. We just didn’t want to let up, didn’t want to get too happy, just wanted to stay poised.”
Poised is an apt word to describe the Blue Devils’ performance in the 63-52 win at Louisville. It wasn’t perfect – Duke still hasn’t rediscovered its outside shooting touch – but it was a heck of a lot more preferable than the recent results against Miami and N.C. State. After the loss to the Hurricanes, coach Mike Krzyzewski had conceded that his group wasn’t confident at that moment. Beating the Cardinals helps alleviate that problem.
“This was a confidence-builder, whatever the hell, offensively or defensively,” Krzyzewski said. “Look, we played our butts off today, and we beat a really good team. You get confidence through accomplishment. No matter if you’re like, ‘Have confidence, I believe in you,’ that’s cool, but then when a kid does it, they’re going to have more confidence. Hopefully we can move on now and use that and play really well Monday night and get more confidence.”
Monday is when Pittsburgh (13-5, 3-2 ACC) comes to Cameron Indoor Stadium to play Duke (15-2, 3-2) at 7 p.m. A victory would give Krzyzewski 999 for his career, and he’ll do what he can to make sure that’s not the focus.
“Somewhat, our team is put in a tough position with me coaching it,” he said. “It’s almost like we have to be perfect. I can’t allow my team that albatross. I have to let them just be them. I have to be in their moment.
“If we do something wrong – I’m trying to take that burden off of them. It’s a burden, how many wins you get, where Coach K is right now. I wish I was Coach W right now. It’s kind of unfair to them, because they get scrutinized so much. I’m trying to lessen that as much as I can.”
Given the external pressures his players face, Krzyzewski instead focuses on how he can build up his team instead of contributing to their tearing down when times get tough.
“With basketball today, it’s so easy to get access to fans telling us we were the greatest thing a week ago, and then we lost two games and it was you can’t do this, you can’t do that,” said Cook, a senior. “It’s easy to lose confidence a little bit, especially with our young guys. Coach kept telling us, he believes in us, he believes in us. You have the greatest all time telling you he believes in you, sky’s the limit.”
Krzyzewski also spent the past few days trying to build up point guard Tyus Jones. The freshman came to Duke with a reputation for impenetrable poise, but a shooting slump and just general out-of-sync offense had him in a funk.
“It’s just really a mind thing,” Jones said. “You’re going to miss shots in basketball … there’s nothing you can really do about that. The guys keep telling me, ‘Keep shooting, we know you can make shots.’ Coach is telling me, ‘Play with confidence, don’t think about it, don’t psych yourself out.’
“I haven’t played well lately, but I just got back to trying to play confident basketball. I know Coach has talked about how we haven’t been confident, and I take responsibility for how we have been playing lately. As the point guard, you’re at the top, you’re supposed to be the leader out there on the court, so I take responsibility for that.”
All of the Blue Devils can feel better about the team after Saturday’s win. Now it’s up to them to keep building on that performance.
“We play Pitt on Monday,” junior Amile Jefferson said, “and that will tell where this Duke team is, if we can go in there and play with the same energy, play with the same liveliness, share emotion, energy, the ball after coming off a big win like this. I think we will.”