Blue Devils cook up an Atlantis title

NASSAU, Bahamas -- Seconds after the final horn sounded in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, fireworks exploded inside Imperial Arena.

Streamers fell from the ceiling, maintenance crews hurried to set up a makeshift awards stage, and camera people rushed onto the court to capture images of the fifth-ranked Duke Blue Devils dancing and hugging as they celebrated a 76-71 victory over No. 2 Louisville.

It's only November. But here in the Bahamas, Saturday felt a lot like March.

"This tournament," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, "ranks as tough as any that we've ever been a part of."

With eight NCAA tournament-caliber teams competing in an oceanside resort, the Battle 4 Atlantis was indeed an event like no other, which is why it was only fitting that the quest for the championship came down to two Goliaths, two top-five teams led by a pair of college basketball's most legendary coaches.

Duke ended up getting the best of Rick Pitino's Louisville squad Saturday night, but no one would be surprised if the schools shared the court a second time four months from now, with confetti again dancing from the rafters at the Final Four.

"We're hungry," Duke point guard Quinn Cook said. "I don't think we're satisfied. We've got to keep getting better."

Duke entered the tournament touting a victory over then-No. 3 Kentucky in Atlanta. But the Blue Devils looked even better in the Bahamas, thanks in large part to Cook, a point guard who played sparingly as a freshman last season because of a knee injury.

Cook was selected as the tourney's most valuable player, and rightfully so. Eleven of his 15 points Saturday came in the game's final seven minutes, when Louisville appeared to have seized the momentum after storming back from an 11-point second-half deficit.

"Respect is not something you can give someone," Krzyzewski said. "It's earned. Quinn has earned the respect of everyone.

"Everyone talks about a kid getting confidence. It's when a team has confidence in its point guard that you can take off. This team has great confidence in Quinn."

Peyton Siva's 3-pointer gave Louisville a 59-58 lead with 8:17 remaining. That's when Cook went to work. He buried a 3-pointer on Duke's next possession to put his team back up 61-59.

Cook eventually would score his team's final eight points, including a pull-up jumper with 27.5 ticks left that made it 72-67 and then four free throws to stave off UL's last-ditch comeback attempt.

"Mason [Plumlee] grabbed me before I shot those free throws and said he believes in me," Cook said. "That just means the world to me. My teammates believing in me, that's the biggest thing."

Krzyzewski said he's been pleased with the way Cook has carried himself throughout the past few games.

"The main thing that Quinn has done is that he hasn't shown any weakness," Krzyzewski said. "He has a great face, a great demeanor and he's in incredible shape. He doesn't get tired.

"He has the demeanor of an outstanding player. A leader has to look strong before he is strong, and that's what he's doing."

Pleased as they were with the victory, Duke's players know they beat a Louisville squad that wasn't at full strength, as Cardinals center Gorgui Dieng missed the game with a wrist injury. Dieng averages 8.2 points and eight rebounds per game, and is regarded as one of the nation's top interior defenders. The Cards didn't know until Saturday morning that Dieng was going to miss the game.

Pitino announced afterward that Dieng could be out as long as six weeks if his wrist is broken. A sprain would keep him out two to three weeks, Pitino said, adding that X-rays will be taken upon the team's return to Louisville.

Considering Dieng's injury and the fact that forward Wayne Blackshear is just now regaining his health, Pitino couldn't help but be encouraged about the future.

"The good thing is, we're playing against a [great] team, without our best big man, down to the wire and could've won," Pitino said. "We're going to get our big guy back. Blackshear is going to get better. This is a team that's going to get better and better. There's a great upside. I'm very excited about our potential."

Saturday's game marked just the second matchup between Pitino and Krzyzewski. The first came in 1992, when Duke advanced to the Final Four by beating Pitino's Kentucky squad on Christian Laettner's turnaround jumper at the buzzer.

There were no Laettner-like moments in the Bahamas, but the intensity of the game and the significance of the victory certainly had a postseason type of feel. That's why Coach K couldn't help but beam as he stood at midcourt after Saturday's win, reveling in the March-like atmosphere.

"I told them that it was an honor to coach them in tonight's game," Krzyzewski said. "They responded to everything, but the main thing they responded to was the pressure of the moment. When kids respond to the pressure of a moment, it's a beautiful thing to watch."