Coach K goes back to basics for No. 900

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 22, 2011

By Luke DeCock
Raleigh News & Observer
CHARLOTTE — You don’t get to 900 wins without knowing the X’s and O’s of basketball, without recruiting, without leading and without all the other attributes that go into coaching.
College basketball at its highest level is a complicated and many-faceted game, full of variations in both strategy and tactics from program to program, game to game and possession to possession.
Once in a while, when two evenly matched teams meet, part of the margin between winning and losing can come down to simple motivation. Mike Krzyzewski went back to basics in that department Sunday to get his 900th win.
Duke ended up squeaking through to the round of 16 with a 73-71 win over Michigan after Darius Morris’ final shot bounced off the back iron, but Krzyzewski set the tone three minutes into the second half. After five lackluster possessions, he called a timeout.
“I thought we needed more energy,” Krzyzewski said afterward. “I didn’t like the way we started out the half. Just more energy. It was an energy timeout. Not an X-and-O timeout.”
The chair was waiting for Krzyzewski, but he never used it. From one knee, he leaned into his players on the bench, unleashing a furious tirade. There’s nothing new about that, of course, but this team hasn’t needed that kind of kick in the pants very often. It got a pretty serious kick Sunday.
With a minute left in the timeout, he dismissively waved his players out of their seats and back onto the floor — where they stood, huddled among the cheerleaders. Meanwhile, Krzyzewski ditched his coat, a rare gambit on his part.
By the time the Duke players returned to the bench 73 seconds later for a TV timeout, Krzyzewski met them at halfcourt in shirtsleeves, jumping and pumping his fists.
“He’s motivating us, and we’re responding,” Duke guard Nolan Smith said. “That’s all it is.”
No one responded more than Smith, who took over the game with a personal 10-0 run, making a vocal statement in the middle. Smith sent Tim Hardaway Jr., to the floor with a dribble, pulled up and hit the jumper. As he ran up the court, he turned and screamed to the crowd.
Now it was Michigan’s turn to take a timeout. The Wolverines looked cooked at that point, but Michigan coach John Beilein was ready to test Krzyzewski tactically as well.
With the Duke lead in double digits, Beilein unleashed his trapping 1-3-1 zone. That stalled Duke’s offense enough to get the Wolverines back in the game, at least until Kyrie Irving banked in a floater with 32 seconds to go to put Duke in the lead for good.
Having a player of Irving’s caliber available to come off the bench can make any coach look smart. It helped give Krzyzewski his 900th win, keeping alive the tantalizing, if remote, possibility that his opportunity to pass Bob Knight with the historic 903rd could come against North Carolina in the Final Four.
Krzyzewski, obviously, has more immediate concerns than taking his former coach’s spot atop the all-time wins column. But he did take a moment after the game with his wife and a few other people to savor the win.
“It means we’re advancing,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s the main thing. It’s been a good thing for the total number of wins (chase) to be in the NCAA tournament and all that because then that’s not the story. So that’s the best thing.”
That chase lives on, and Duke survived to move on Sunday. There were many reasons why, but one of them — as big as any — was as simple as it gets.