Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - Two of the ACC's best collide in a marquee matchup on Saturday afternoon, as the fourth-ranked Duke Blue Devils come calling on the sixth-ranked Louisville Cardinals.
After opening the season with 14 straight victories, Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils are in the midst of a rare losing streak, as the team has dropped back- to-back ACC games to NC State (87-75) and most recently, Miami-Florida (90-74). The loss to the Hurricanes dropped Duke to an even 2-2 in conference play and ended the nation's longest homecourt winning streak at 41 games. It also marks the first time since 2009 that Duke has lost consecutive regular- season games.
Rick Pitino's Cardinals have asserted themselves well in their first run through the ACC. The newcomers are sitting at 3-1 in conference play thus far and gained some distance from that one league loss (72-71 at North Carolina), with Tuesday's 78-63 blasting of Virginia Tech. With the win over the Hokies, Louisville moved to 15-2 overall and 11-1 at the KFC Yum! Center this year.
This marks the 10th all-time meeting between these two powerhouses. The Blue Devils own a 5-4 series advantage, but it was Louisville that won the last meeting, an 85-63 rout in the 2013 NCAA Elite Eight, en route to the Cardinals' third national title. These two teams also met in the 1986 NCAA Championship Game, garnering Louisville its second national title (72-69).
Duke held the narrowest of margins at the break against Miami (35-34), but the Hurricanes came out firing on all cylinders in the second half, shooting a scorching 67 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes to blow past the Blue Devils, and end the nation's longest homecourt winning streak in the process. Quinn Cook led four Blue Devils in double digits in terms of scoring with 18 points. Jahlil Okafor (15 pts, 15 rebs) and Amile Jefferson (14 pts, 12 rebs) both posted double-doubles, while Rasheed Sulaimon (14 pts) rounded out the top offensive performances for Duke.
The poor performance against Miami doesn't reflect Duke's offensive abilities in the least. Despite the outing against the Hurricanes, the Blue Devils still lead the ACC in both scoring (83.2 ppg) and field-goal percentage (.502). A lot of that has to do with the play of Okafor. The 7-foot freshman has been as advertised, as he leads the nation in field-goal percentage (.668), the ACC in scoring (18.9 ppg) and the team in rebounding (9.4 rpg). Cook is the team's veteran presence, as the senior guard is netting 14.8 ppg. Other playmakers of note include freshmen Justise Winslow (11.9 ppg) and Tyus Jones (9.4 ppg, 4.9 apg) and the junior Jefferson (8.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg).
The Cardinals may not have the offensive punch that Duke possesses, but the team plays the kind of stingy defense that can shut down even the most explosive teams. Louisville is giving up just 56.9 ppg this year, holding foes to a mere .365 shooting percentage (12th nationally), while forcing over 17 turnovers per game. The team does possess offensive depth as well, with four of the five starters currently averaging double figures. Louisville is paced by guard Terry Rozier and his 17.4 ppg. All-America candidate Montrezl Harrell is the perfect complement in the frontcourt, averaging 15.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Chris Jones (12.8 ppg) adds backcourt depth, while Wayne Blackshear (12.5 ppg) does the same up front.
Louisville came out strong, shooting .545 from the floor in the first half, resulting in a 43-24 edge at the break. The Cardinals cruised to victory after that, as Virginia Tech was simply ill-equipped to play catch up. Rozier led four Cardinals in double figures with 16 points. Blackshear finished with 15 points, followed by Harrell and Mangok Mathiang with 11 points apiece.