Duke was probably out numbered when looking for athletes, and Coach K's squad was certainly out-sized with Kentucky starting a lineup of 6'8, 6'10, and 7'0. And yet, down the stretch, the Blue Devils were able to crash the boards and get to the loose balls. Add in the best performance of Curry's career in Durham, and Coach K's team is 2-0 on the season.
Here's our takeaways:
Curry's best as a Blue Devil: Despite a very limited preseason, and a somewhat uneventful first game, Seth Curry put together a wonderful performance on Tuesday night. The senior hit for 23 points on 7-of-14 shooting (6-of-6 from the line) while playing 34 minutes. Known primarily as a perimeter shooter, Curry put together an array of old-school moves comprised of head fakes, ball fakes, and jump stops to knife into the lane where he finished with a lot of soft touch floaters and layups (though he did show the ability to flush it when open). Perhaps the biggest play of the night was Curry's scoop layup in traffic to bump the Duke lead back to five after Kentucky cut a 14 point margin to three.
Flashback to last time: Remember the last time these two programs played when Jason Williams went off for nearly 40 points? What may be forgotten from that game was when Duke's starters were benched by Krzyzewski for poor performance. It was a five for five sub, and the Blue Devil reserves were able to play Kentucky to a +1 margin during that time. Flash forward to Tuesday night and Duke was once again forced to rely heavily on the bench with Mason Plumlee in awful foul trouble early on in the second half. Duke saw their starting big man go to the bench with an eight point lead. From that point it seemed as though the Wildcats would go to the paint over and over to come all the way back. Instead the Blue Devils turned up the defensive pressure on the ball and in the passing lanes to built a 14 point lead on the strength of an 11-5 spurt with Plumlee on the bench.
Unsung héros: Go to any message board and you'll find that juniors Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston are somewhat undervalued at times. On Tuesday the duo came up huge with a number of clutch plays. Hairston, at just 6'8, spelled Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly inside and came up with a pair of offensive rebounds and putbacks to help Duke continue to maintain the lead and even expand it while Plumlee was kept on the sideline. Meanwhile Thornton defended the ball and was willing to go inside and make the Kentucky bigs pay for bringing the ball down inside on rebounds. Hairston finished with five points and five rebounds in 14 minutes. Thornton added 2 points and three boards in 20 minutes.
Improved PG play: The Blue Devils were worried about the point guard play after game one and the two exhibitions. Against Kentucky, however, the team had four ball handlers - Cook, Thornton, Rasheed Sulaimon, and Curry. The foursome combined for 11 assists against just three turnovers. Cook, especially, showed a much improved level of poise and control - fighting his natural ability to throw attempt the spectacular at every turn. The sophomore finished with three assists and two turnovers in 30 minutes of action.
Big wings…not ready?: It's hard to find negatives when your team beats a top five opponent on a less than neutral floor. However, throughout the off-season the narrative in Durham was about getting bigger and more athletic on the wing. And yet, through two games, 6'8 Alex Murphy has logged two total minutes while Amile Jefferson is averaging 8.5 minutes per game. Neither player made much of an impact against the Wildcats, which is somewhat concerning given Duke's 2011-2012 season ending performance, and the subsequent off-season chatter. Going forward Duke will need at least one of the wings to earn the trust of Krzyzewski if the team is to have a different look from a season ago.
Next up: Duke will have a chance to rest a bit while playing Florida Gulf Coast before heading off to the Bahamas for the Thanksgiving tournament. FGC beat Miami on Tuesday night, but Duke should win the game. And it may be the season/career debut for redshirt freshman Marshall Plumlee.