Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s career ends with Final Four loss to North Carolina

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski looks on against North Carolina on April 2, 2022.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski looks on Saturday night. The Blue Devils’ 81-77 loss to rival North Carolina in a national semifinal ended the legendary’s coach’s career.
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

For the 48th time over 47 years of unparalleled coaching, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski took the slow walk to midcourt and shook the hand of the North Carolina coach who beat him.

After that, he found his wife, Mickie, and they made the slow, sad walk, hand in hand, off the Superdome floor. Saturday night’s 81-77 setback in the national semifinals showdown marked Coach K’s last loss, and one of his toughest losses too.

And thanks to the Tar Heels — those gosh darn Tar Heels — the 75-year-old coach will have plenty of time to get over it.


“I’m sure at some time, I’ll deal with this in my own way,” the coach said.

David McCormack scored 25 points, Ochai Agbaji added 21, and Kansas beat Villanova 81-65 in a national semifinal to move on to Monday’s title game.

Krzyzewski’s remarkable career came to sudden close after Caleb Love made a key three-pointer and three late free throws to lift the Tar Heels to their thrill-a-minute victory.

This was the 258th, most consequential and maybe, just maybe, very best meeting between these teams, whose arenas are separated by a scant 11 miles down in Tobacco Road.

The eighth-seeded Tar Heels (29-9), of all teams, pinned the 368th and final loss on Krzyzewski. His lifetime record against North Carolina fell to 50-48. Nos. 47 and 48 are ones Carolina fans will treasure forever. This one came exactly four weeks after the Tar Heels ruined the going-away party in Coach K’s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

That loss hurt. This one stopped the coach’s last-gasp, storybook run one win away from a title game and a chance at his sixth championship. Krzyzewski said he had a locker room full of crying players when it was over.

“It’s not about me,” he insisted. “Especially right now. I’ve said my entire career that I wanted my seasons to end where my team was either crying tears of joy or tears of sorrow. Because then you knew that they gave everything.”

They gave everything all the way through the nip-and-tuck stretch run that Duke played without a timeout. When the final buzzer of his career blared, Krzyzewski shook the hand of Carolina’s rookie coach, Hubert Davis.

North Carolina guard Caleb Love (2) celebrates after scoring against Duke during the second half April 2, 2022.
North Carolina guard Caleb Love (2), who scored 28 points, celebrates after scoring against Duke during the second half.
(Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)

Instead of Krzyzewski going for his sixth title on Monday, Carolina will try to win its seventh. It will be Davis, Love, who led the Tar Heels with 28 points, and R.J. Davis, who scored 18, going against Kansas, which beat Villanova 81-65 earlier in the undercard.

“Dwelling on the two wins against Duke doesn’t help us against Kansas,” Hubert Davis said.

Maybe not, but what a game! It featured 18 lead changes and 12 ties.

It also featured another breakout performance from Love, whose 28 points after an 0-for-4 start were one more than what he put up in the second half of a win last week against UCLA in the Sweet 16.

“It means everything to me,” Love said of his key three with 25 seconds left.

At around the 2-minute mark, the teams traded three straight threes. Wendell Moore Jr.’s three-pointer with 1:19 left ended the flurry and gave Duke a 74-73 lead. It was the last lead of Krzyzewski’s career.

Mike Krzyzewski’s final home game at Duke was a loss, but that won’t tarnish his place among John Wooden and college basketball’s all-time greats.

R.J. Davis came back with two free throws, then after Duke’s Mark Williams, in foul trouble all night, missed a pair from the line, Carolina worked the ball around the perimeter.

Tar Heels guard Leaky Black set a pick — make that threw a block — on Trevor Keels to free up Love, who drained a three for a four-point lead and what felt like massive breathing room in this one.

Love made three more free throws down the stretch, and then it was over. Krzyzewski and his wife walked off the floor together, same as they had after four wins during the run to his record 13th Final Four.

Near the other bench, Hubert Davis was crying again, much as he did last weekend when North Carolina punched its ticket to its record 21st Final Four.

“I felt like over the last two or three years , North Carolina wasn’t relevant,“ said Davis, whose biggest win came a year to the date after Hall of Famer Roy Williams announced his own retirement. “North Carolina should never be irrelevant. It should be front and center with the spotlight on them.”

Freshman Paolo Banchero led the Blue Devils with 20 points and his classmate Keels had 19. Another freshman, A.J. Griffin, never really got on track, finishing with only six points.

Chances are Griffin and Banchero will be following Krzyzewski out the door. They are the latest in his revolving door of one-and-done players, though neither they nor Zion Williamson in 2019 could lead Duke back to the promised land.

North Carolina is back on the verge again, looking for its second title in six years. Win or lose, though, 2021-22 will be remembered as the season North Carolina sent Coach K packing for good.

One team’s agony is another team’s joy. The happy team has more work to do.

“All I’m thinking about are these players,“ Davis said of his own squad. “Coach K is unbelievable. That team is the best team so far that we have played. And we just happened to make more plays tonight.”

Alabama superfan Luke Ratliff, a.k.a. Fluff, forged deep bonds while supporting his team. COVID-19 silenced his cheers, but his memory lives on.