No. 1 Duke Blue Devils getting by on grit
by Mike Lopresti, USA TODAY Sports
DURHAM, N.C. – Mike Krzyzewski spent his 66th birthday beating North Carolina in the company of thousands of screaming blue and white faces, and a Duke team that continues to find a way.
Who needed a party?
“It’s hell being 66,” he said when it was over Wednesday night, and if he looked a little tired, no wonder. These 9 p.m. games are killers, and little seems to be coming easy this season, which seems an odd thing to say about a No. 1 ranked team with 22-2 record.
But the message is growing clearer. Whatever the Blue Devils do in March, it’ll have to be on will. They are not fully loaded. Not with big man Ryan Kelly watching the pre-game warmup on crutches, his return date uncertain. They are not ultra-talented with a platoon of NBA sure things, and they are not without flaws or vulnerabilities.
“This isn’t Laettner and Hurley, Williams and Battier, playing against North Carolina,” Krzyzewski said, evoking a Duke pantheon of past great names in one paragraph. “Our guys are good, but they’re not terrific.”
But they win.
It might not always be pretty. Wednesday certainly wasn’t, when between the pressure and the frenzy and the hype, the two teams combined for 30 turnovers and only 17 assists. North Carolina played sufficiently inspired and led by as many as 10 points, but when the game had to be retrieved, Duke shot 52 percent the second half and made 13 of 14 free throws after halftime to get by 73-68.
Krzyzewski finds himself talking a lot about grit these days.
“I do think it was at the highest level tonight,” he said. “A lot of times in these games, you get worn out quicker. We got knocked back by their quickness. At halftime, I was just worried we may have run of out gas.
“That’s where the grit came out. You kind of forgot about being tired.”