Duke hosts Louisville Saturday night in a game rife with ACC and NCAA implications. A big game. And not the first time for these two heavyweights.
Durham and Louisville are a little more than 500 miles apart as the crow flies, a bit further if the crow is driving and sticking to the highways. Both programs made their first NCAA Tournament appearance in the 1950s, Louisville in 1951, Duke in 1955 and both have been good way more often than not.
So, it’s a bit surprising that the teams have met only 16 times, 12 times since Mike Krzyzewski took over the helm at Duke, seven since Louisville joined the ACC.
Duke leads the series 10 to 6. But some of those Duke losses were so searing that the rivalry seems less one-sided.
Mike Krzyzewski took his second Duke team to Louisville on the second day of 1982 and it was not pretty. The Doctors of Dunk were ranked 14th while Krzyzewski’s undermanned Blue Devils were on their way to a school record 17 losses.
The final was 99-61, still tied for the third-worst loss in Duke history, the second-worst in modern history, assuming we can discount Trinity’s 90-15 loss to Washington & Lee back in 1913.
Jerry Eaves led Louisville with 17 points, while Derek Smith—Nolan’s father—added 14.
About the only positive sign for Duke was the performance of freshman forward Dan Meagher, who battled inside for 12 points and 14 rebounds.
Krzyzewski had begun to replenish the talent base when the they had a rematch the following season in Cameron. This was the year when Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, David Henderson and Jay Bilas were freshmen.
But the talent gap hadn’t closed that much. Louisville won 91-76. Henderson led Duke with 19 points, Dawkins adding 14. The visitors hit 71.4 percent (40-of-56) from the field, a record for visiting teams in Cameron.
Dawkins, et. al were seniors when next they met in an NCAA title game that still resonates. The top-ranked Blue Devils went into the game 37-2 but coming off a bruising semifinal win against Kansas, while the seventh-ranked Cardinals were coming off a cakewalk against LSU. Duke led most of the game but were running on fumes at the end when a Pervis Ellison put back of a Jeff Hall airball sewed up a 72-69 Louisville win.
The programs next met in the postseason in the 2013 Elite Eight. Duke had defeated Louisville earlier in the season in the Bahamas but fell 85-63 in a game most remembered for the gruesome leg injury suffered by Louisville’s Kevin Ware.
Louisville went on the win the 2013 NCAA title, since vacated by the NCAA.
But they haven’t all been Duke losses. We all remember Duke’s comeback from 23 points down last season. But there were some other big Duke wins, even before Krzyzewski took over.
The first meeting between the two programs took place on the campus of North Carolina State, in Reynolds Coliseum on the final day of 1958.
This was the Dixie Classic, of course, and not just any Dixie Classic. This was the year when Oscar Robertson and second-ranked Cincinnati came down and left with losses to both North Carolina and North Carolina State.
Duke and Louisville met in the fifth place game, each with a win and a loss. Duke was plastered by Jumpin’ Johnny Green and Michigan State 82-57 in the first round but edged Yale in the loser’s bracket.
Duke led most of the game in a 57-54 win. Howard Hurt led the Blue Devils with 24 points.
This win probably didn’t register much at the time but it looked pretty good in retrospect. Harold Bradley’s last Duke team started five sophomores—back when that was a bad thing—and ended its season at 13-12. Louisville, on the other hand, advanced to its first Final Four, defeating arch-rival—and defending national champion—Kentucky along the way.
Bradley was gone to Texas and the Dixie Classic was gone to a point-shaving scandal when Duke and Louisville squared off for a home and home.
Vic Bubas replaced Bradley and he needed some high-profile non-conference games to fill the void left by the Dixie Classic’s demise. Louisville visited Duke Indoor Stadium December 8, 1961 and found out the hard way what a lot of college-basketball teams found out during that decade; Bubas was building a national power. Duke’s star forwards Art Heyman (33 points,18 rebounds) and Jeff Mullins (26 points, 12 rebounds) led Duke to an 86-56 blow-out.
It was a different story when Duke returned the favor the following season, visiting Louisville in a game that would have been a classic had it been nationally televised.
A crowd of 14,000 jammed Freedom Hall. In 1962.
Heyman and Mullins returned and Bubas’ fourth Duke team was 5-0 and on the way to the program’s first Final Four. But Louisville was 3-0 and conceded nothing.
Duke took the lead five minutes into the game and never lost it. It was 38-32 at the half.
But Louisville’s front-court of 6-4 Ron Hawley, 6-8, 250-pound Judd Rothman and 6-7 John Reuther kept the Cardinals in the game.
Duke led 74-67 with 3:32 left when Louisville made its final push. Duke had some empty possessions and the lead was cut to a point, at 74-73.
Duke decided to hold the ball and took two minutes off the clock before Heyman was fouled. Heyman wasn’t always a great foul shooter; he made 69 percent that season. But he knocked them down and Duke led by three with 48 seconds left.
Rothman scored inside and drew a foul. But his potential tying foul shot missed and he and Mullins tied up on the rebound.
The 6-4 Mullins controlled the jump and Jay Buckley was fouled, with 8 seconds left. In the days before the 3-point shot, Buckley could have wrapped it up from the line.
He missed. But Duke’s defense hounded Louisville down the court and they were unable to get off a shot.
The final score was 76-75 Duke.
Heyman and Mullins again keyed the win. In fact they scored Duke’s final 21 points. Heyman ended with 35 points, Mullins 21. Reuther and Hawley led Louisville with 21 and 20 respectively.