Duke beats Kentucky on a splendid night of Dome hoops

Seth Curry beats Julius Mays to the basket in Game 2. (AP photo by Dave Martin)

Duke's Seth Curry beats Julius Mays to the basket in Game 2. (AP photo by Dave Martin)

Nine days before Thanksgiving, there were four on the Georgia Dome floor. Come April 6 there will be four on this same floor, and if the past is a guide, some of these contestants will be included in that Final Four.

The Champions Classic, which alit here Tuesday night, is in Year 2 of its rotation. (Last year it was New York; next year it’s Chicago.) The teams that played in the final game of the 2011 Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden – Kentucky and Kansas – also graced the 2012 NCAA final in the Superdome. That’s known as a leading indicator.

The same foursome from last season’s Champions Classic was in place again, albeit in a different configuration. Kansas got Michigan State this time. Kentucky played Duke, and Kentucky and Duke, as you may have heard, have an NCAA tournament history.

From Rupp’s Runts outgunning Vic Bubas’ team in the 1966 Final Four to Jack Givens scoring 41 points in the 1978 championship game to the Blue Devils upending the Big Blue at Rupp Arena in 1980 to the epic Christian Laettner fallaway in 1992 to the almost-as-epic Wildcats comeback from 18 down in 1998, Kentucky-Duke has become the collegiate version of Lakers-Celtics. They don’t meet in the Big Dance every year, but when they do it’s memorable.

This being November, the stakes were rather less. Consensus among the assembled media was that Duke, being much more seasoned, would have an edge on John Calipari’s latest gathering of lottery picks. (The flaw in the Calipari Method is that, with almost everyone leaving for the NBA after one season, you’re always starting over.) And with sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow of Walton High back in Lexington with flu-like symptoms, it wasn’t clear that the Wildcats were ready for a such a test.

Turns out they weren’t. The Devils trailed early, but by the end of the first half their defense had begun to fluster Kentucky. With 9 ½ minutes remaining, Duke led by 14. Sparked by the grad student Julius Mays – what’s HE doing on a Calipari team? – the Wildcats would hit back, but Mays missed a trey that would have tied it. Duke won 75-68.

Said Seth Curry, the senior guard who scored 23 points: “We were composed. We’d been in that situation before.”

“What a heck of a doubleheader,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Kentucky’s so athletic. They’re good. I think we’re good, too.”

Calipari  proved last season that a team powered by gifted freshmen can win it all, but not all gifted freshmen are created equal. This might end up being be the least of his four Kentucky teams. (Which isn’t really a rip, given that the first three went Elite Eight, Final Four, NCAA champs.)

Said Calipari: “We’re still trying to figure out our team.”

The Wildcats will get better as they go. That’s a guarantee. But of the four teams on display Tuesday, the reigning titlist might be the longest shot to get back in April. The otherworldly mesh the Wildcats forged last season won’t be easy to replicate.

Duke could make it back. The Devils have a nice blend of talent and experience, and their coach is the best in the business. But if you’re expecting the Champions Classic to generate another title-game matchup, the smarter money would be on the participants in Tuesday’s Game 1 – Michigan State and Kansas.

The Spartans wore down Kansas to win 67-64, and the classic Tom Izzo fusion of grit and strength will only be buttressed by the addition of freshman wing Gary Harris, who scored 18 points in his second collegiate game. (Sitting two rows behind the State bench was Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory, once an Izzo assistant. One row behind Gregory was Spartans fan John Smoltz; one row in front was the Spartans letterman Steve Smith.)

The Jayhawks, meanwhile, have size underneath and speed on the perimeter and a sleek freshman of their own in forward Perry Ellis, who was bumped off-stride by the beefy State men but who figures to be a force soon.  Kansas finished second to Kentucky last season, and nothing suggests the Jayhawks can’t move upward this time.

Then again, any of these four could develop into a champion. Said Krzyzewski: “It helps all the teams to play in this atmosphere.”

It was a splendid night of hoops – a nice crowd of 22,847, four storied programs playing two high-level games. But for all the hype that accompanies any Kentucky-Duke meeting, remember the opener of this twin bill. We could well see Michigan State and Kansas meet in this city again, and their repeat collision wouldn’t be at all unwelcome.

By Mark Bradley

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November 14th, 2012
2:33 am

Is it still considered first?

Sorry Dogs

November 14th, 2012
6:18 am

Dang! I gotta pay better attention. I never heard about this, probably would have bought tickets and been there if I had.

That’s OK, I got my Final Four tickets.


November 14th, 2012
6:34 am

I am so glad MArk can write about his Ole Kentucky home again.

Mark Bradley

November 14th, 2012
6:34 am

It is. Kudos, Jason.

Pepper Rodgers

November 14th, 2012
8:29 am

Too early for Bball.

Paul in NH

November 14th, 2012
8:35 am

Gregory wants to take the same approach as his mentor, Izzo – defense, rebounding and toughness. There are worse programs he could emulate.

ACC is Tarheel Country

November 14th, 2012
8:37 am



November 14th, 2012
8:49 am

Call me Goose, Mark.

not really

November 14th, 2012
8:58 am

UK didn’t necessarily prove you could win it all with “gifted freshmen”. Last year they had a senior that averaging 10 ppg, they had 2 very good sophomores including a returning All-SEC player in Terrance Jones and Doron Lamb, who scored 22 in the title game while their heralded player of the year (Anthony Davis) scored only 6. This system will not work unless they continue to have very good non-freshman on their team like last year that have the poise and composure to perform on the biggest stage.


November 14th, 2012
9:08 am

Dook….yuck. Hey Tarheel Country, get a life. It may be fashionable to boo the Blue Devils, just as it is the Yankees. But funny how all the news media talk last night about the classic winners Kentucky and Duke never mentioned either UCLA or North Carolina. What a great year its going to be for college b ball …. even if there again will be a few blue chippers (two or three from Kentucky) who will opt for the big salaries and NBA glitz after only one year playing college hoops.

Speed Racer

November 14th, 2012
9:11 am

Shouldn’t games like this be in Philips Arena? Smaller. More basketball-friendly.


November 14th, 2012
9:18 am

Hopefully the Duke football team can produce the same outcome this weekend against the techies in football.

Go Blue Devils! Sack Tech. They are terrible!


Christian L

GT Dude

November 14th, 2012
9:19 am

Never even knew this was in town, but there was a stinch in the air yesterday
Must have been coming from Calipari


November 14th, 2012
9:34 am

Excellent Games..


November 14th, 2012
9:36 am

The stinch in the air is an amazing waft of the ever lasting losers @GT Dude

ACC is Tarheel Country

November 14th, 2012
10:34 am

I have a life. I’m also looking forward to NCAA B-Ball time.
UNC doesn’t need the media to hype them. Their basketball program’s tradition speaks for itself just as UK & Dook do for their programs.
Not sure what got your panties in a wad; possibly you’re an ABC fan.


November 14th, 2012
12:44 pm

I agree with 2 of the comments above. This had to be the worst advertised sporting event in history! You had 4 of the premier programs in the country coming to town, and no where was this advertised. Shame on State Farm, and whoever else was involved with this event.


November 14th, 2012
3:58 pm

“not really

November 14th, 2012
8:58 am
UK didn’t necessarily prove you could win it all with “gifted freshmen”.

UK is going to come closer to a true freshman roster next year as they currently are slotted #1 in recruiting and potentially have room for more this spring.
Get your digs in now…..UK trying to inch closer to UCLA in titles.


November 14th, 2012
4:09 pm

From the looks of things, this event had it all…we even had some “Duke flops” whining from Calipari.


November 14th, 2012
4:23 pm

Great two games. I like the coaches in this classic except for Calipari who, at Ky. has made a mockery of the student athlete concept, not to mention the stench he left at UMass and Memphis.


November 14th, 2012
4:52 pm

If Harrow steps up at point guard Cats will win it all again.

Hubie Green

November 14th, 2012
6:42 pm

If Kentucky is counting on Minnie Mouse Ryan Harrow to lead the way, it’s going to be a long year in Big Blue country.

Buzz 2011

November 14th, 2012
9:07 pm


Buzz 2011

November 14th, 2012
9:09 pm

@Reality… Reality may indeed be difficult for you to swallow come late Saturday afternoon at the Flats….


November 14th, 2012
11:11 pm

Mark Bradley -

Wow, you really lit up the blogosphere with this sterling piece of journalism. If it keeps trending this direction, you make get 30 comments in a 24 hour period. Simply stunning. Congrats.

Floundering Fox Hounds Batman!

November 15th, 2012
12:31 am

Looks like this Tax accountant is going to be a bust hire. Youngstown State? I mean really?


November 15th, 2012
9:23 am

Fire Dave Perno!

Veteran Fan

November 15th, 2012
5:06 pm

Coach Gregory is fantastic and his very young team is talented, tough, and big! Barring some injuries, the Yellow Jackets could make a run at the end and be one of the four in the dome. Point guards need to mature some and I really think next year is their year, but teams who rebound and play tough defense some times find a way!