ATLANTA — Round One went to Duke's seniors here Tuesday night. Kentucky's freshmen, who showed the same no-quit grit that beat Maryland in the season opener four nights earlier, mounted a comeback that fell short as Duke won 75-68. No doubt, that left the Cats hoping for Round Two in the same Georgia Dome, host to the Final Four next spring.
“We’re better than we were against Maryland,” UK Coach John Calipari said. But Duke provided stiffer, steadier competition.
Even with Mason Plumlee, one of three senior starters, picking up his fourth foul early in the second half, Duke held a 14-point lead with less than 10 minutes left.
“We just got hot there,” Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said of the four three-pointers that helped his team build a 58-44 lead with less than 10 minutes left.
Kentucky, which started three freshmen and played without presumptive point guard Ryan Harrow, twice closed to within three points down the stretch. But UK (1-1) got no closer.
“We need him,” Calipari said of Harrow, who did not make the trip because of a still-undisclosed illness. “It hurt us (against Duke). It’s obvious.”
Freshmen scored 56 of UK's points. Alex Poythress led with 20. Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin added 16 each. Willie Cauley-Stein got the other four.
Seth Curry led Duke with 23 points. Plumlee added 18, and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon chipped in 10.
Led by Plumlee and four three-pointers, Duke led 33-31 at halftime. Freshmen scored 24 of UK's 31 points. Poythress led the way with 10.
But Kentucky looked young at times. Four of UK's nine first-half turnovers came on charges.
During his quickie TV interview heading off the floor at halftime, Calipari complained about what he termed flops by Duke defenders. The UK coach said the NBA would fine players for such tactics. When asked after the game about the comments, Calipari said he was joking.
“It was a joke,” he said. “C’mon, you guys at Duke can take a joke, can’t you?”
Krzyzewski wasn’t laughing.
After saying he didn’t pay attention to comments by opposing coaches, Krzyzewski added, “I thought we took some amazing charges, and I thought we took a couple more (resulting in blocking calls in the second half). There’s a difference between charges and a flop.”
A flop does not involve contact, the Duke coach said.
UK showed its lack of age when Duke took the lead for good in the final minutes of the first half.
Goodwin took and missed a wild shot in the lane, which preceded a timeout. Later, Poythress attempted to shoot over Ryan Kelly on back-to-back possessions. Kelly, who is four inches taller, easily blocked both attempts.
Plumlee's 14 first-half points led Duke. A 50.5-percent free-throw shooter (3-of-7 in the opener against Georgia State), he made all four attempts in the first half. That helped Duke take its largest lead, 29-23, with 3:55 left.
Duke extended its lead to 43-37 early in the second half. Back-to-back three-pointers by freshman Rasheed Sulaimon and sophomore Quinn Cook enabled the Blue Devils to match their largest lead to that point with 16:48 left. in the second half. Back-to-back three-pointers by Sulaimon and sophomore Quinn Cook enabled the Blue Devils to match their largest lead with 16:48 left.
Kentucky got a break when Plumlee picked up his third and fourth fouls before the first TV timeout of the second half. The fourth — which sent him to the bench with 16:05 left — came when he arrived late trying to deny a pass to Noel at the top of the key. Plumlee made it an easy call by bumping into the UK freshman.
But Kentucky failed to take advantage of Plumlee's departure. Even with UK maximizing its size advantage with would-be Twin Towers Noel and Cauley-Stein, Duke extended its lead to 54-42.
Duke attacked UK junior guard Jarrod Polson as part of a Plumlee-less 11-5 mini run. A Curry drive drew a foul on Polson, and his two free throws put the Blue Devils ahead 49-42 with 12:47 left.
About a minute later, Curry drove by Polson. He threw a shot over UK's help defense. Junior Josh Hairston grabbed the rebound and put in the basket. This replay of how Maryland hurt UK put Duke ahead 54-42.
When asked if Duke wanted to attack Polson, who came out of no where to be a hero in the Maryland game, Curry said, “Yeah. Yeah. We wanted to jump all over their guards. They had other guys filling in (at point guard). We knew they didn’t have any experience.”
UK called time with 11:29 to contemplate.
Monster putback jams by Poythress helped Kentucky rally. The second of the dunks brought UK within 66-63. Ninety-seven seconds remained.
But Curry drove by Julius Mays for a layup,
After Goodwin walked on a drive, Round One only needed the final score.
'Still hate Laettner'
Aminu Timberlake, the UK player that Christian Laettner famously tapped on the chest in the 1992 East Region finals, attended the game. Wearing a T-shirt that read "I Still Hate Laettner," he posed for pictures for UK fans. The shirt was a gift from a friend, Todd Harris of Lexington.
When asked whether he really still hated Laettner, Timberlake smiled and said, "It's a fun thing. You've got to remember, it was 20 years ago."
After Timberlake fell to the floor in the 1992 game, Laettner tapped a foot on the UK player's chest. That resulted in a technical foul.
Timberlake, 39, said he has lived in Atlanta for six years. He and his wife, Lisa, have been married for 16 years. They have three daughters: Maya, 11; Leah, 7, and Ava, 6.