Duke, Louisville rounding into late-season form

NCAA Men's Basketball

After a successful two-week period, Duke looks closer to operating at a top level than it has all season. And Louisville might be getting back to a better spot as well.

The teams meet Saturday night in Durham, N.C., still seeking to polish their credentials for NCAA Tournament consideration.

“We knew our time was going to come,” Duke freshman Jeremy Roach said. “We’re getting connected at the end of the season at the right time.”

The Blue Devils own a season-best four-game winning streak, with three blowouts and a one-point upset of then-No. 7 Virginia.

Duke (11-8, 9-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) and Louisville (12-5, 7-4) are among teams jockeying for position and byes for next month’s ACC tournament.

“I think we’re maturing and getting better,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “For our kids to have four wins is great. We have to get some rest and get going again.”

The Cardinals returned from a coronavirus-related pause of nearly three weeks and were 45-point blowout victims last weekend at North Carolina. Louisville recovered by defeating Notre Dame 69-57 on Tuesday despite playing without guard David Johnson because of illness.

“We needed this kind of response,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said.

Next on Louisville’s to-do list is winning consecutive games. The Cardinals haven’t done that since early January.

In the other meeting this season, Louisville won at home against Duke 70-65.

Duke connected for 27 assists Monday night in an 86-71 victory over Syracuse, marking the program’s second-most in an ACC game and exceeded only by 29 registered in a 1989 outing against Clemson.

“These last four games, we’ve just been doing everything right and taking care of the ball,” Roach said. “And that leads to great shots and no turnovers or fast breaks on the other end.”

Certainly many of the key pieces might be aligned differently for the Blue Devils compared to their first matchup with Louisville. Freshman center Mark Williams didn’t play in that game, but against Syracuse he turned in season highs with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

“We’re just trying to keep this winning streak, just trying to stay consistent, stay hungry,” Roach said.

Carlik Jones poured in 24 points last month against Duke as Louisville outscored the Blue Devils 18-7 at the free-throw line in the five-point win.

Jones, a grad transfer from Radford, became the first player in program history to score in double figures in each of his first 16 games as a Cardinal. He played all 40 minutes against Notre Dame.

“He’s one of the guys I don’t worry about a whole lot with his conditioning level,” Mack said. “He’s just a baller.”

One of the answers for Duke’s Williams could come from Malik Williams, a center/forward who made his first start of the season for Louisville earlier this week, grabbing 10 rebounds in 26 minutes against the Irish. Plus, center Jae’Lyn Withers had a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

“I thought his mobility got a lot better (from the previous game),” Mack said of Malik Williams. “We’re going to need it to jump up even more coming up this Saturday.”

–Field Level Media

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