Anybody’s game until Chris Jones has to go to the bench.
The University of Louisville had made three of 10 field goal attempts when Jones committed his second foul at the 11:08 mark in the first half, his team leading 10-9. Duke was even worse, hitting only three out of 11 attempts.
Wayne Blackshear would slash through the middle for a rare dunk to push the lead to 12-9 — the closest thing to a highlight for UofL.
But Jones was out. Everybody in the arena knew the situation had changed. Palpable.
Wide open shots bouncing off the rim time after time, Louisville making only seven of 31 shots in the first 20 minutes before a disbelieving crowd of 22,791 at the KFC Yum! Center. For the game only 11 of 22, Duke taking full advantage to claim a 63-52 win, employing a zone for the first time in recent memory.
UofL unable to hit from outside, or penetrate. Clang, clang, clang.
While Jones could never match the intensity of former Cardinal Andre McGee, he is the heart and soul of UofL’s defense. Duke would outscore the Cards 21-11 for the rest of the half. He’s also leader on offense, deadly when he’s on, a force to be dealt with, motoring, finding open teammates.
Jones made his first three-point attempt, getting UofL off to 3-0 start, but managed just two points the rest of the way. He still managed four assists.
No one coming off the Louisville bench could disguise the loss of Jones, lacking the experience, speed, savvy, or confidence of their UofL teammates. Nor does any sub have Rick Pitino’s trust or the skill and audacity to largely ignore the coach as Russ Smith did over the past three seasons. At least not yet.
Terry Rozier missing his running mate, the player who sets him and his teammates up, while UofL was still in contention. The first half had set the tone for the game, Rozier managing to hit five of 16 attempts for his team high 17 points, struggling to get open, forcing shots.
The current UofL version will continue to struggle against the better teams until it gets more shooters on the floor, The leading candidate is Shaqquan Aaron who had only six minutes of action in the loss. He clearly has the shooting ability but is obviously lacking Pitino’s confidence on the other end of the court.
Until some shooters emerge who embrace Pitino’s defensive philosophy, the script is not going to change much.