LOUISVILLE — For the second straight Saturday, poor shooting doomed sixth-ranked Louisville’s chances for its first signature Atlantic Coast Conference win.
Unlike last week, when a late drought did in the sixth-ranked Cardinals at North Carolina, they misfired all afternoon in a 63-52 loss to No. 4 Duke. Louisville finished 18 of 61 (30 percent), its second-worst shooting performance this season.
“We had good ball movement, good player movement, but we could just not knock down shots,” Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said. “Sometimes it is very simplistic.”
The only things Pitino said could help Louisville in that area are a mad scientist or divine intervention. He said on Friday that his team would need to “be reincarnated to become great shooters because nobody works at it more than we do in terms of volume of shots.”
Practice didn’t help as Louisville made just four of its first 28 shots and nine of its first 40.
The slow start for Louisville (15-3, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) followed last Saturday’s 72-71 loss in Chapel Hill where the Cardinals missed 8 of their last 10 shots, including missing two open looks on the last possession that could have won the game.
Louisville suffered its first double-digit defeat since falling 74-63 at Marquette on Jan. 16, 2012.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski shifted away from his steadfast man-to-man defense into a 2-3 zone to force Louisville to shoot from outside.
“It’s something we put in early in the year, but we hadn’t gone to it yet,” said Duke’s Amile Jefferson, who scored a game-high 19 points. “This game seemed to be a good game for it. We needed to do something new and we needed a fresh start after those two losses.”
The Cardinals didn’t see it coming.
“We thought they would go zone at the end of the shot clock but they went straight zone and that bothered us,” said Cardinals guard Terry Rozier, who led Louisville with 17 points on 5-of-16 shooting.
Despite not hitting shots, Louisville was in the game early. The Cardinals trailed 15-14 with 7:41 left in the first half before Duke scored 11 straight — capped by Quinn Cook’s off-balance 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 2:26 remaining — to lead 26-14.
Jahlil Okafor scored 14 second-half points and 18 overall as the Blue Devils (15-2, 3-2) dominated Louisville inside to end a two-game slide. The 6-foot-11 freshman and 6-9 Jefferson played a big role in outscoring Louisville 32-24 in the paint while denying the inside defensively.
The Blue Devils shot 21 of 43 (49 percent).
Louisville trailed by 21 in the second half before getting within 10 points, at 58-48 with 1:29 remaining. The Blue Devils were firmly in control at that point and won the matchup between Hall of Fame coaches.
Louisville guard Chris Jones had averaged 17.5 points in his last four games but shot just 2 of 10 and sat much of the first half with two fouls. He finished with five points.
“I’m still in shock right now. I’ve never seen so many shots rim out like that,” Jones said.
Pitino said Louisville must improve in all facets to make up for its shooting deficiencies.
“We’re not as good as the past three years for one reason,” Pitino said. “We can’t knock down easy shots inside as well as outside. So we’ve got to really, really be meticulous in every other area.”
• TURN BACK THE CLOCK: Louisville played in 1980s-era throwback uniforms featuring a dunking Cardinal logo on shorts much longer than those worn back in the day. Members of the 1980 NCAA title squad were honored at halftime including Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum and star Darrell Griffith.
• LID ON THE BASKET: Louisville was ice cold in the first half, shooting 7 of 31 including 11 straight misses over a six-minute stretch before making its final three. The last one involved some drama, as Montrezl Harrell’s jumper bounced three times on the rim before dropping through at the horn to trail 30-20. He finished with 10 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.
• TIP-INS: The Blue Devils were outrebounded 38-32 but owned the defensive boards 27-20. ... The Cardinals shot just 4 of 25 from 3-point range (16 percent).
• UP NEXT: Louisville visits Pittsburgh on Jan. 25.