Short rest has spelled trouble for Duke’s Curry
Playing the country’s top-seeded team on short rest isn’t easy for anyone. But it may be hardest for Duke guard Seth Curry, and how he deals with the quick turnaround could determine how the No. 2-seeded Blue Devils fare against No. 1 Louisville in the Midwest Regional final today at Lucas Oil Stadium (5:15 p.m., WRAL).
Curry had 29 points in Duke’s win over No. 3 Michigan State Friday.
“Seth was at a different level than anybody on the court offensively,” Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “To get 29 points in a game like this against an outstanding team is just an incredible performance.”
It was Curry’s 18th 20-point game, and a continuation of a stellar senior year in which his shooting has sparked Duke’s offense. But Curry’s been limited in practice all season with a lingering right leg injury, and the senior has struggled without normal recovery periods.
When Curry has had at least two days between games, he’s averaging 18.6 points and shooting 49.2 percent from the field, including 47.5 percent from behind the arc. In the five games he’s played on short rest, his average has decreased to 12.2 points on 30.2 percent shooting, including 20 percent from long range.
The Duke-Michigan State game ended around midnight, and after post-game obligations and NCAA-mandated blood testing, the players didn’t go to bed until 2:30 or 3 Saturday morning. Nine hours later, they had to be back at Lucas Oil Stadium for TV and radio interviews.
“We’re concerned about our turnaround from last night more so than (Louisville’s) press,” Kryzewski said Saturday. “Just because your normal clock has been screwed up… And so we have to make sure our guys enter the game with fresh legs.”
Louisville is second in the nation in turnover margin (plus-6.1) and steals (10.9), and in two of its three NCAA Tournament games to date, opponents have had more turnovers than field goals.
Krzyzewski said he would limit his team’s time on the court Saturday and keep the players off their feet. That’s been normal protocol for Curry, who’s just started practicing fully with the team last week because of his injury, which is similar to a stress fracture.
“I’ve felt a little bit better as the season’s gone along,” Curry said Saturday. “It’s tough to turn around, but I feel fine. I’ll be ready to go (Sunday).”
Curry’s first experience on short rest was at the Battle 4 Atlantis in November After going 8-of-11 from the field in the opener against Minnesota, he went 6-for-20 the next two days against VCU and Louisville. Curry had similar results after exam break in December, scoring 20 points against Cornell and then six the next day against Elon.
Four weeks ago, he scored 28 points at Virginia, and followed that two days later with just seven at home against Miami. Last weekend in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Curry shot 10-of-14 in the first game against Albany on a Friday, and 5-of-15 against Creighton two days later.
Curry played 36 minutes against Michigan State. Not only did he hit six straight 3-pointers — including three in a 24-12 run early in the second half that broke open a tie game and put Duke ahead to stay — he also chased around Big Ten freshman of the year Gary Harris, who was held to six points on 2-of-11 shooting.
Curry is sure to have another tough assignment today. Louisville’s backcourt of Russ Smith and Peyton Siva combined for 36 points in the Cardinals’ loss to Duke in November, and Smith is coming off a 31-point effort Friday against Oregon.
“When you get to this point, you’re going to play against players on both ends of the floor,” Curry said. “(Harris) was a tough matchup and it’s going to get tougher going forward. I think our schedule in the ACC and the preseason has prepared us for what we’re doing right now.”
No matter how long he’s had to recover, one constant aspect of Curry’s game is his free throw shooting. He made all seven from the line against Michigan State and was 21 of 23 at the Battle 4 Atlantis, including 15 of 16 in the final two games.
“I feel like the scouting report is try to be physical, try to take away my rhythm and try to keep contact with me at all times,” Curry said. “So I’ve gotten used to that this year and try to play through it and try to get to the free-throw line.”
Switching from Michigan State’s physical half-court defense to Louisville’s full-court pressure in less than two days will be tough for any player, let alone one who isn’t fully rested. But everyone on the team would prefer a quick turnaround to the alternative — having all the time in the world to think about how the season is over.