The last time Duke and Louisville played, it took a miracle for the Blue Devils to win.
Facing a 23-point deficit late in the second half, Duke rallied all the way back to stun the Cardinals on their home floor, pulling out one of the most memorable wins of the decade last February.
No. 11 Louisville will come to Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday evening at 6 p.m. looking for a chance at revenge, returning nearly all of its core from the team that got its heart broken by the Blue Devils last season. This time around, No. 3 Duke hopes it won’t take a miracle to knock off the Cardinals, though Louisville may be the Blue Devils’ toughest competition in securing an ACC title.
“For us to have that character and that persistence being down at their place, it’s obviously an incredible comeback,” senior captain Jack White said. “We know that left a foul taste in their mouth and they’re going to come in here and really try and make a statement with us. But for us, coming off a loss, we’re trying to make a statement ourselves. If anything from what last year’s game shows us, it’s we have the ability to fight back and we can’t be counted out of games.”
After starting the season 9-0 and ascending to the top of the AP poll, Louisville has fallen into a rut over the last month. The Cardinals (14-3, 5-1 in the ACC) dropped consecutive ranked matchups against Kentucky and Florida State before pulling off three straight ACC wins, though they took middling Notre Dame and Pittsburgh teams down to the wire in that stretch.
Like Louisville, Duke (15-2, 5-1) was humbled recently, with the Blue Devils suffering their first ACC loss of the season Tuesday, falling to an unranked Clemson squad.
“We’re just realizing that everyone’s coming for us,” freshman guard Cassius Stanley said. “For us as freshmen, we’re realizing every win in the ACC, every game in the ACC matters. It doesn’t matter if it’s the last team or the best team, every game matters. Taking everything and owning it basically, just going out there, making it ours and really making it personal and knowing we’ve got to bring it every day.”
Preseason ACC Player of the Year Jordan Nwora leads the way for Louisville, averaging an efficient 20.4 points per game. The 6-foot-7 junior can score from anywhere on the floor, posing a matchup nightmare for nearly any opponent.
While Duke’s athletic 6-foot-6 freshman Wendell Moore Jr. was made in a lab to lock down Nwora, Moore is unlikely to play as he recovers from a hand injury. Stanley and White are seemingly the best candidates for head coach Mike Krzyzewski to stick on the Cardinal forward, but Stanley gives up more than 30 pounds to Nwora and White may struggle to handle Nwora off the dribble. Simply put, if Louisville wins Saturday, it will likely be because of Nwora.
Nwora isn’t the only one that can give the Blue Devils headaches. 6-foot-10 Steven Enoch, 6-foot-5 Dwayne Sutton and 6-foot-11 Malik Williams are all big bodies that can score inside. This is a major problem for Duke, considering interior defense has been the Blue Devils’ kryptonite over the last few games, especially against Clemson’s Aamir Simms and Tevin Mack.
“We weren’t happy with our defense obviously Tuesday night,” White said. “We just let their best players kind of roam free and get what they wanted. So really coming in, really trying to make teams uncomfortable, trying to take them out of their stuff, be an aggressive defensive team and really just get back to our identity of what we want to be known as, which is the best defensive team in the country.”
Joining Moore on the bench in Duke’s loss Tuesday against the Tigers was fellow wing Joey Baker, nursing a sprained ankle sustained in practice. However, Baker is expected to return to action Saturday, The News and Observer’s Steve Wiseman reports.
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Baker’s return would be warmly welcomed by the Blue Devils, with the team’s depth looking thin for the first time this season against Clemson. But regardless of the knockdown shooter’s status against Louisville, the outcome will largely be decided by if Duke can reverse course defensively and slow Nwora and the other Cardinal bigs.