Though he entered Saturday with 1,114 college basketball wins to his name, Mike Krzyzewski was especially locked in once his Duke Blue Devils took the court against Virginia.
The Cavaliers were unbeaten. Duke was playing without injured point guard Tre Jones, the player Krzyzewski called his team’s most important.
The 71-year-old coach had something cooked up to deal with it all.
Krzyzewski didn’t spend much time lobbying the officials when their decisions went against Duke. That’s a rarity. And it’s safe to say it wasn’t because he felt their judgment was unassailable.
Instead he had levers to pull and buttons to push to get his talented, yet undermanned team, past a Virginia team that had yet to lose.
A different defensive philosophy was one. A sprinkle of zone was another. And a wrinkle in the offense was the coup de grace that helped Duke finish off a 72-70 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“That was a big-time game,” Krzyzewski said. “You don’t get too much better than that.”
Duke-North Carolina games at Cameron have their own unique feel.
Duke-Virginia can’t match that but, boy did it come close.
Simply put, there appeared an extra level of anticipation to his one.
Always the hunted thanks to five national titles and four decades of piling up wins, Duke actually had doubters.
The separated shoulder Jones suffered in last Monday night’s 95-91 loss to Syracuse put a dent in what had been a sparkling, joy filled season for Duke up to that point.
Jones spearheaded Duke’s man-to-man defense, creating havoc out front as he hounded opponents into turnovers. His adeptness on offense to get the ball in the hands of Duke’s best playmakers, while not turning the ball over himself, made him a guy Krzyzewski trusted to play all 40 minutes if need be.
Now the Blue Devils faced the prospect of playing most of the rest of the regular season without him.
After a scheduled day off on Tuesday, the team reconvened on Wednesday for practice, film sessions and conditioning. Virginia, yet to suffer a loss this season, was coming to town in four days and the Blue Devils had no choice but to find a way to beat the Cavaliers.
It helped that they learned Jones’ shoulder injury wouldn’t sideline him for weeks or months. His shoulder is sore and his range of motion remains so limited he couldn’t play against Virginia.
This is more of a game-to-game injury than a long-term problem.
That changed the team’s mindset.
“It wasn’t super difficult, especially once we found out his injury wasn’t going to be as long-term as we may have feared,” Duke junior forward Javin DeLaurier, a team captain, said. “We were like, ‘Ok. We have Virginia coming in Saturday. We can’t lose.’”