In the final in the Battle 4 Atlantis holiday basketball tournament at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, it came down to the #2 University of Louisville basketball Cardinals (5-1) and the #5 Duke University Blue Devils (6-0). In a transformed ballroom, Rick Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski punched and counter punched with plays and schemes and when the final horn sounded, Duke came out on top 76-71.
Without Gorgui Dieng, who was lost to a wrist injury, the Cards fell behind early. Freshman Zach Price started in place of Dieng but the interior game ended up being dominated by junior Stephen Van Treese and freshman Montrezl Harrell.
Meanwhile Louisville fell back into the bad habit it showed in their tournament opener with Northern Iowa. Namely, they tried to go at Duke one-on-one rather than as a team. Most of the time that doesn't work for anyone, but it's especially ineffective for the Cardinals. They're built on the team ethic.
And even during that stretch, half court defense played well. While they had trouble slowing down the Blue Devil fast break, the zone look made Duke work on every possession. The Blue Devils used a lot of shot clock and got out of control to the point where the Cardinal big men drew charges from their counterparts.
Freshman Montrezl Harrell provided a spark with angry dunks inside to keep the energy good for the Cards. They went in at halftime 36-28, thanks to a Seth Curry 3 pointer as time expired. This team doesn't normally go into the second half trailing, so the adjustments had to come hot and heavy in the locker room.
In the second half, Siva came out to try to take over the game on offense from his point guard position. With shots not going down for an extended time, he had to. Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear either couldn't get open or didn't want to shoot. That’s disturbing considering that Hancock played his best game as a Cardinal the night before. In this game, he only attempted one shot and only grabbed one rebound. However, thanks to Siva's senior leadership the Cards stayed in the game.
Meanwhile, Dieng looked on looking for all the world like he wanted to ignore the his wrist injury and get in the game. The Cards could have used his intimidation factor to keep Duke out of the paint.
Russ Smith's play without the ball created offense. He contested shots. He chased loose balls over the announce table. He did whatever needed to be done to put the ball back on the Cardinal side of the court. All that hustle got the Cards to tie the score at 56-56.
A Siva three put Louisville ahead 59-58. It was their first lead since the game was 6-5 for the Cards. From there, it became a back and forth affair. Van Treese probably played himself into a bigger role moving forward with his hustle, rebounding and put backs.
Free throw shooting down the stretch was iffy when the Cards went to the line so Duke took advantage with physical play. And they got the usual referee "Duke advantage" calls, particularly the offensive elbow push off. For every time Russ Smith got a call, a greater percentage of that action went without a whistle.
Inside 1:00 minute to go and the game still hadn't been decided meaning this game was everything the Battle 4 Atlantis organizers wanted it to be. When the Cards were forced to foul to stop the clock, Duke knocked down the free throws and went on to victory.
Peyton Siva finished the game with 19 points, 6 steals and 4 assists. Russ Smith had another russdiculous game with 17 points and 7 rebounds. Both guards received all-tournament honors.
Louisville now gets its holiday break. They don’t play again until Saturday, December 1st in the friendly confines of the KFC Yum! Center where they take on Illinois State. That game tips at 1:00pm.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton