Saturday, March 25, 2000

Duke can't fight fatigue

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Chris Carrawell showed no fear. The Duke senior said Florida had a great press but that the Blue Devils were prepared for it. He said fatigue was no factor when you get to the NCAA Tournament.

        “We're going to be in attack mode all night long,” he promised Thursday afternoon.

        Friday night, attack mode went all wobbly.

        Leg-weary and bone-tired, college basketball's top-ranked team was stunned by fifth-seeded Florida 87-78. The NCAA Tournament is reduced to eight teams — only Michigan State a top seed. Carrawell, consequently, would end Friday's game not in attack mode but weeping on the shoulder of his coach, Mike Krzyzewski.

Gators' press overwhelming
        Florida's full-court pressure and bottomless bench produced many of Duke's 22 turnovers but also had a critical cumulative effect. It wore on the Blue Devils until they were clunking around like so many punch-drunk pugilists. Sometimes, basketball is a possession game. Sometimes, it is an attrition game. Friday, it was both.

        “We've got a deep team,” Florida forward Mike Miller said, “and a team that you don't lose a lot when you sub. Our bench has been key for us all year, and this just goes to show that our team's young, but we're capable of doing a lot of things.”

        Florida coach Billy Donovan used 10 players, and all logged at least 11 minutes. None of the Gators played more than 30 minutes, while Krzyzewski used four of his starters for 32 minutes or more. If you want to know why the Gators scored the last 13 points of the game, start with the spring in their steps.

        “I think we are worn out,” Krzyzewski said. “It wasn't just the press — they played good half-court defense, too. And they complemented their defense by pushing the ball up the court offensively. They can put pressure on you both ways. As a result, you can make what looks like a foolish mistake because you're caught up in the pace of the game.”

        Duke turned over the ball three times in its first four possessions — two of them in half-court haste, one against the press — and the Devils never did seem to find a comfortable rhythm. That, of course, was central to Florida's strategy.

        Donovan is a disciple of Rick Pitino, who used the human wave approach to great effect at Kentucky. Pitino was so committed to wearing down the other guy that he took minutes away from his best players. The Wildcats bought into his philosophy and won an NCAA championship.

        Friday, Donovan pulled his starters off the floor despite an early deficit and watched his second team take off on an 11-0 run. At the end, Donovan went to a zone defense, figuring Duke would be spent and was likely to be sloppy shooting from the perimeter. It was a calculated risk, calculated shrewdly.

        “We wanted to play man (defense) as long as we could,” Donovan said. “We hoped we had fatigued them enough. I wanted to wait as long as I could to switch to zone.”

Exhaustion beats bravado
        “They did throw a lot of guys at us,” Carrawell said. “But it wasn't a factor. They just made the plays down the stretch.”

        With four minutes to play, Duke led 78-74. It was about then that rigor mortis set in. The Blue Devils stopped scoring and started blundering — throwing inbounds passes to players who weren't watching, failing to find the preferred rebounding positions that had been their strength all evening. They looked like a team trying to survive on will when their legs said won't.

        Fatigue is a factor in the NCAA Tournament, all right. An enormous factor. A team that goes 10 deep on purpose can compensate for a shortage of All-Americans. It can push the pace until better players start panting. It can beat Duke's superlative talent with sheer numbers.

        “I think it's bigger news when Duke loses than wins,” Donovan said. “You play not to lose when you play against a team like Duke. (But) I have been preaching in the NCAA Tournament that you have to step up.”

        Friday night, Duke looked like a team eager to sit down.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at

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