Feinstein: Coach K Never Forgets an 'L'

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

DURHAM, N.C.

Mike Krzyzewski has now won 823 games as a college basketball coach after his Duke team overcame a 16-point deficit Saturday afternoon to escape with a 78-75 overtime victory over Miami at Cameron Indoor Stadium. That ranks him fifth in men's college basketball history.

But what has shaped him and his career is the losses. Which is why, after Duke was humiliated, 74-47, Wednesday night at Clemson, he didn't bother going home after finally discharging his players after 3 o'clock in the morning.

"I have never wanted to be a coach who hangs on because they'll let me," he said, his voice still hoarse an hour after Saturday's game had ended. "I know from my past that there are certain games and certain moments that define who you are as a coach, as a team, as a player. They're reference points that you look back on years and years after they happen. I was pretty certain after the Clemson game that this was one of those moments -- one way or the other.

"I knew we would have trouble playing [the Hurricanes]. They were coming off their best game of the season [a 79-52 victory over Wake Forest], and we were coming off our worst."

He paused. "Even so, I never could have anticipated a game like this."

For 23 minutes on Saturday, Duke looked as aimless as it had at Clemson. After senior Greg Paulus hit the game's first shot in his first start of the season, the Blue Devils missed 27 of their next 32. At halftime, Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson, their two best players, were a combined 1 for 15. Miami held a 25-14 rebounding advantage.

"It was a miracle we were only down 32-19," Krzyzewski said. "If we hadn't been pretty good on defense it would have been more like 50-19."

Miami's lead did reach 38-22 early in the second half, but then in an instant, it all changed. Maybe it was Krzyzewski putting senior Dave McClure on Miami's brilliant guard, Jack McClinton, and at least slowing him down a little. Maybe it was Henderson finding creases in the Miami zone or maybe it was Duke "rebounding maniacally," as Krzyzewski put it, coming up with 14 offensive rebounds in the second half -- seven of them from McClure.

Or maybe it was just Duke winning a game it should have lost.

Here is a fact that Krzyzewski knows better than anyone: Duke is not that good. That might sound ridiculous about a team that is 20-3 and tied for first place in the ACC. But this Duke team, like the past two that didn't play the second weekend of the NCAA tournament -- is very fragile. The Blue Devils have no inside offensive presence -- the Blue Devils attempted a school-record 39 three-pointers Saturday -- and lack quickness on the perimeter. So if they aren't making three-pointers, they can lose to almost anyone. They made 8 of 23 in the second half Saturday. That was enough -- barely.

Duke was 18-3 two years ago and finished 22-11. Last season, the Blue Devils were 22-1 and ended up 28-6. After making the round of 16 nine years in a row and 17 times in 21 seasons, Duke has not been that far since 2006. No one is more aware of that than Krzyzewski. He knows he has set impossibly high standards for his program, and he also knows the only way to maintain those standards is to be as driven at 62 (which he'll be Friday) as he was when he first arrived at Duke at age 33.


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