It had been over six weeks since Duke had lost, and it was about 24 hours after the Blue Devils’ complete demolition of N.C. State, complete with six Marshall Plumlee dunks. But it took Mike Krzyzewski less than two minutes to realize something was off in the Blue Devils’ 74-64 loss to Notre Dame in the ACC tournament semifinals.
Duke did its best sleep-walking impression in the first half – a new problem at an inopportune time. Senior captain Quinn Cook called a meeting that night in his hotel room, and the coaches racked their brains to figure out how they had failed to properly prepare their group.
“It’s never about attitude,” Krzyzewski said. “We have this great group of kids, and they want to play, and, so, what happened?”
Whatever the issue was against Notre Dame, it was fixed in time for the NCAA tournament. Duke, the top seed in the South Region, rolled to easy victories in Charlotte, 85-56 over Robert Morris and 68-49 over San Diego State, to advance to the Sweet 16. In Houston, the Blue Devils similarly dispatched Utah (63-57) and No. 2 seed Gonzaga (66-52) to reach the Final Four.
In the waning seconds of Duke’s win over the Bulldogs, Krzyzewski turned to his family and yelled, “We’re going to the Final Four!” And then, right before the final horn, he took out captain Cook, who was overcome with emotion as he hugged his coaches, eyes full of tears.
“There’s no better feeling – when Quinn walks off the court, the best, the best feeling,” said Krzyzewski, who has been to a record-tying 12 Final Fours.
“So when somebody says you’ve won this, you’ve done that, why do you coach? That’s why. There’s no greater moment than that.”