NCAA Tournament: No. 902 on hold for coach K
By Joedy McCreary
Mike Krzyzewskiís 902nd career win will have to come next season.
So will Dukeís pursuit of a fifth national championship.
The top-seeded Blue Devilsí shockingly one-sided loss to Arizona in a West regional semifinal sends Krzyzewski into an earlier-than-expected offseason at 900 victories ó two shy of Bob Knightís record for Division I menís coaches.
That defeat kept another record out of Krzyzewskiís reach, and it was the one mark that perhaps meant even more to everybody who wears a Duke uniform: Another spot in the Final Four. That would have kept them alive, of course, for a second straight national title.
Instead, the Blue Devils were denied their 12th trip under Krzyzewski, which would have matched John Woodenís record.
ěIím disappointed for (the players), especially for the two guys on my left,î Krzyzewski said, referring to seniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. ěBut, look, the tournament is cruel. Itís an abrupt end for everybody when you donít win.î
Duke may have finished 32-5, reached No. 1 in the polls twice, earned another No. 1 seed and captured its third straight Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship. But surely the two seniors never expected to go out with a 93-77 loss Thursday night to the fifth-seeded Wildcats.
Singler returned for his senior year after earning the most outstanding player award at last yearís Final Four, but a shooting slump marred stretches of his season. In his last game, he scored 18 points and played much of the second half with four fouls.
For Smith, the ACC player of the year, his final night in a Duke uniform was one to forget. He finished with eight points ó 13 below his average ó on 3-of-14 shooting. When it became obvious that there would be no last miracle comeback, the senior starters were given a curtain call by Krzyzewski with 2:01 left and received around-the-waist hugs from their head coach.
ěThese guys have been part of 125 wins over a period of four years, and itís been an honor for me to coach them,î Krzyzewski said. ěTheyíre warriors, and I love them, but thatís part of sport. The better team won (Thursday night). But Iím very proud of my team, and especially these two kids.î
A year earlier, they were key performers on a Duke team that caught fire at the end of the season, rolling through the ACC and NCAA tournaments to claim the schoolís fourth national title.
Though that team was carried by its top three scorers, a pair of underheralded seniors ó Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek ó provided some much-needed muscle on the boards. One of the big concerns entering this season was whether brothers Miles and Mason Plumlee would be able to do the same thing in the low post. It didnít happen against the Wildcats, who had a 40-27 rebounding advantage ó and it seemed even more lopsided than that.
Thatís at least partly because the Blue Devils never seemed able to get the loose balls that in last yearís tournament always seemed to find their hands.
ěI donít know if it was their physicality, it was more that we just didnít get the ball,î Singler said. ěWe got hands on rebounds, but we didnít secure them.î
Now the pressing question is whether point guard Kyrie Irving come back for a second attempt at his first full season.
The injury to Irvingís right big toe Dec. 4 became the lingering subplot to the year. Krzyzewski repeatedly said he was prepared to play the rest of the season without Irving, leading to a 31/2-month-long guessing game about his return.
He came back just in time for the NCAA tournament, scoring in double figures in all three games and finishing with a 28-point performance against Arizona. After the loss, he said he would discuss his future with his coaches, family and friends before deciding whether to jump early to the NBA.
ěIím not really thinking about whether this was my last game or not yet,î Irving said. ěIím not sure what Iím going to do. … I could definitely see myself wearing a Duke uniform again. I donít want to take it off right now. Thatís why Iím still wearing it.î