INDIANAPOLIS – When the final buzzer sounded at the 2015 national championship game, the scoreboard showed Duke 68, Wisconsin 63. Fittingly, it was a five-point victory for the Blue Devils’ fifth national championship.
Once the confetti settled on the court at Lucas Oil Stadium the dissection of the game began and it was a tale of two coaches:Coach Mike Krzyzewski is the undisputed patriarch of college basketball, capping the season in which he chalked up his 1,000th win with his second title in six years. He also is the man to beat at the Crossroads of America. The past three title games played in Indianapolis involving Duke – 1991, 2010 and 2015 – the Blue Devils have won.
“All of them are great,” Krzyzewski said of the title-game wins. “The one you're in, this moment, is always the most current, you can feel it the best. I haven't loved a team any more than I've loved this team. We have eight guys, and four of them are freshmen. For them to win 35 games and win the national title is incredible.
“When it's over, and I would have the best appreciation because I've been in this for 40 years, and I'm the coach of that group that did this. You know, how good is that? They've been a joy. They've been an incredible joy. When you're already happy, and you get happier, it's pretty damn good.”
Now trailing only John Wooden’s 10 national championships, Krzyzewski surpassed Adolph Rupp for second place on the all-time list. Since Coach K hoisted his first trophy in 1991, no other coach – no other team – has won more than Duke’s five championships. No other team has played in as many title games, seven, either.
“Whenever you mention Coach Wooden, he's separate from everybody,” Krzyzewski said.
“They all have been different,” he added, speaking of the Blue Devils’ championship runs. “[Former player now assistant coach] Jon Scheyer would tell you 2010 was different than 2001. The ability to adapt is key in everything. I think I've adapted well.”
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, as steady as there is in the profession, failed to get the program’s first championship since 1941. After losing to Kentucky in the 2014 Final Four, the Badgers’ 2015 run seemed destined for a storybook ending – especially after UW ended the Wildcats’ undefeated season on Saturday night.
|NATIONAL TITLE GAME APPEARANCES SINCE 1991|
|Duke Blue Devils||7||5-2|
|North Carolina Tar Heels||3||3-0|
|Michigan State Spartans||2||1-1|
|Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets||1||0-1|
|Illinois Fighting Illini||1||0-1|
|Ohio State Buckeyes||1||0-1|
Ryan, who won four Division III championships at Wisconsin-Platteville, praised his team for its hard work and dedication. And openly wondered if the officials played a part in the late-game momentum shift.
Ryan opened the postgame news conference with a subtle jab: “What a fantastic job these guys did all year. They just came together to do all the things that they accomplished. Highest offensive efficiency. A team that committed the least number of fouls during the year. A team that got to the free-throw line. So these guys played 30-some games that way. It's just unfortunate that this one had to be played out that way.”
But it didn’t take Ryan long to acknowledge his seniors and their dedication to the program.
“It's really hard to put into words the years, the hours, the travel,” he said. “This group was so together and enjoyed each other's company, could needle with each other. They did a lot of good things.
“If you go through all the things that this team did as a team – the offensive efficiency I mentioned, fewest number of fouls in the country, fewest number of turnovers. … This group just set another standard of taking care of the ball, playing defense with their feet – things like that – not their hands. Sometimes hands are allowed more than others. You know how the game goes. … Like I said before, you always got to adjust. I can't really put into words how close and how special this is. Maybe someday I will. To see them go out this way, that's tough.”
In fact, Wisconsin was 6 of 10 from the free-throw line. By comparison, Duke was 16 of 20, with 16 of those chances in the second half.
“We practice where if an offensive player jumps into you, we always call it on the offensive player. It's just what we do,” Ryan said. “So there were some situations where, obviously, our guys felt they were in position. I'm sure they felt they were in the right.
“Both teams are always going to feel that there's a question or two. So it's just the way the game's played. But I've been with these guys a long time, and I've watched a lot of basketball. Sometimes games are played differently, and you have to go with the flow.”
The Badgers’ four seniors – Traevon Jackson, Duje Dukan, Josh Gasser and Frank Kaminsky – obviously hold a special place in Ryan’s heart. “All the seniors that I've had … hard to say the word, but every player that's played through the program, OK, we don't do a rent-a-player. You know what I mean? I like trying to build from within. It's just the way I am.
“To see these guys grow over the years and to be here last year and lose a tough game, boom, they came back. They said what they wanted to do, they put themselves into that position, and they won't forget this for a long time. I told them that's life. Wait till you get a job. Wait till you start the next 60 or 70 years of your life. It's not always going to work out the way you would like it to. But you measure a person by what it takes to discourage them.”
On Monday night, the flow favored Duke and Krzyzewski, who made no apologies for leaving Indianapolis with a fifth trophy.