Losses are relative in college basketball, as top-ranked Duke and point guard Bobby Hurley learned the hard way yesterday.
Getting over a 75-73 defeat to North Carolina on Wednesday night in Chapel Hill would have been difficult enough, but now the Blue Devils will have to do it without Hurley.
The 6-0 junior, who broke Tommy Amaker's school record for career assists, also broke something else against the Tar Heels -- the second metatarsal bone in his right foot.
Hurley, a key player in both Duke's run to the national championship last year and the team's 17-0 start this season, is expected to be sidelined up to three weeks. Hurley had started 95 straight games for the Blue Devils.
"I feel really bad for Bobby because he's having an All-American-type year," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said yesterday. "To be out a portion of it is tough."
Hurley said last night: "I am trying to take a positive outlook with it. Obviously, I'm very disappointed that I won't be able to play for a couple of weeks."
Hurley was leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in assists, with 7.6 a game. He was also Duke's third-leading scorer (13.2 per game) and its most prolific three-point shooter (31). More importantly, he was the catalyst on both offense and defense.
It was apparent in the second half of the North Carolina game that something was wrong. After scoring 11 points in the first half and helping the Blue Devils to a 39-38 lead, Hurley didn't score again the rest of the night.
"It affected me mentally because I felt something pop," Hurley said last night. "And then you worry what's wrong. I think it affected my mental approach to the game in the second half."
Hurley's injury did not come as a total shock in Durham, however, because he had complained of pain in the foot at practice Tuesday and was X-rayed hours before Duke took the court at the Dean Dome. Those X-rays proved negative; yesterday's showed a break.
"Obviously we're devastated," said senior center Christian Laettner. "I think one of Bobby's best traits is that he's very tough and that he always plays for us. We'll just have to put it behind us and start playing without him."
The injury comes as Duke, which is in the midst of a four-game road trip, prepares to play at No. 22 LSU tomorrow. Hurley likely will miss the game against Maryland Feb. 20 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"He's the guy who decides who gets the ball," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "That's putting a lot of confidence in one player. The thing that people also don't understand is that Hurley was probably their best outside shooter. It's a big loss for them."
The prolonged absence of Hurley will force Krzyzewski to reshuffle his lineup, with 6-8 sophomore Grant Hill the likely candidate to move to the point and 6-11 freshman Cherokee Parks or 6-8 sophomore Tony Lang to move into the starting frontcourt.
"I think it's an opportunity for us to see other things at a time when we can do it," said Krzyzewski. "We can experiment with some lineups and people at different positions. We might find something that will help us in March."
Krzyzewski said that he expects teams to guard the Blue Devils a little differently without Hurley, and he also realizes that Duke will have to change its style with Hill, a natural small forward who played point guard his freshman and senior years in high school. Other than Hill, Duke doesn't have another player with proven ball-handling skills.
"They [opposing teams] could go a little bit of zone like Wake Forest did when Bobby got into foul trouble," said Krzyzewski. "Bobby really pushes the ball up the court and I'm not sure we can do that with Grant for 40 minutes."
The loss to North Carolina, Duke's first since a 96-74 pounding by the Tar Heels in last season's ACC tournament final, broke a 23-game winning streak. It also set up a scramble for No. 1 in the national rankings.
Oklahoma State would have been a likely candidate, but the second-ranked and previously unbeaten Cowboys lost at Nebraska on Wednesday night. No. 3 Kansas, which has lost only to Louisville this season, plays at Oklahoma State tomorrow.
That means Duke could hold on to its top ranking for the 13th straight week if it beats LSU and Oklahoma State beats Kansas. If the Blue Devils and Jayhawks both win, Kansas probably would jump to No. 1.
Said senior forward Brian Davis: "The most important thing for us is to understand why we lost. We lost because we didn't go to the boards as hard as we should have and we rushed a few shots. We should have played with a little more poise."
Now the Blue Devils will have to play with poise, and without Hurley. It won't be easy.