Duke struggled with its shooting throughout the NCAA tournament and it caught up with the top-ranked Blue Devils tonight in the championship game against Louisville.
"You play this game long enough you're going to have a night like tonight," said Duke forward David Henderson, who missed 19 of 27 shots in the Final Four, including his final five in the last six minutes of the 72-69 loss at Reunion Arena.
"I felt good. I felt positive," Henderson said. "I felt very confident. I said if I had my shot, I'd take it. When I had the lane to the basket, I took the ball to the basket. I felt good. It just didn't fall."
Mark Alarie, Duke's other starting forward and oh-so-good defensively for two games, also had shooting problems. He was four for 11 tonight, eight for 24 in the Final Four. His biggest miss came during a seven-minute stretch late in the game in which the Blue Devils didn't score a basket.
It was 63-60, Duke, and Alarie had an open 20-foot jumper from the top of the key. He knew the minute he released it the shot wouldn't go in. "I just lost the ball off my fingertips. It was a miss before I let it go," he said. "It really wasn't what we wanted for me to put up a brick like that."
From that point, Louisville went on a 10-2 run.
"Our shooting may have caught up with us in this ball game," point guard Tommy Amaker said. "It's been one of our strengths all season."
The Blue Devils were 51.5 percent shooters coming into their 40th game this season. Tonight, they made just 11 of 28 shots in the second half tonight and shot a combined 36 for 90 (40 percent) for their final 60 minutes of the season.
"When you get 24 turnovers you expect to win," said center Jay Bilas. "But then again, you shoot 40 percent. How many times does that happen? Not often."
Bilas said the Blue Devils had been taking extra shooting practice. Obviously, it didn't help much. Only Bilas (two for three) and Johnny Dawkins (10 for 19) shot better than 50 percent in the championship game.
"But how do you stop a shooting slump?" Bilas asked. "It's like a batting slump. Do you just stand there and think about whether it's his left foot or his right foot because there's too much weight on it?
"You can think about that stuff all day long and it's probably never going to do you any good."
There were two other key factors in Duke's loss, after which the Blue Devils refused to make excuses or blame it on their late foul trouble.
First, despite its 24 turnovers, Louisville scored 60 of its first 70 points from within eight feet of the basket. In fact, in its first 29 possessions, Louisville scored all but three possessions in which it didn't have a turnover.
"That's a good tradeoff," said guard Milt Wagner.
"They isolated and lobbed from the top," Bilas said. "When that happens there's no weakside help under the basket, so, consequently, it's very difficult for me, playing in front of center Pervis Ellison . When they lob it over, you're dead.
"There's no weakside help and that's one of the problems of playing that way."
The other factor was Duke's inability to complete some early fast breaks, when it had an opportunity in the first half to expand a seven-point lead.