Caleb Love wanted to make his return to Duke about Arizona, not himself
Caleb Love could have taken it himself.
Down two points with the clock ticking under a minute to play, Love beat a closeout and got to the left elbow with a decision to make. Take the Duke defender to the basket and hope for favorable contact? Pull up for a floater? Or drop a pocket pass to Keshad Johnson the baseline under the basket.
Playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the fourth time in his career, Love was met with jeers and plenty of expletives. The former North Carolina guard wrote “Tar Heel 4L” on his shoes. He led Carolina to a national title game appearance and ended Mike Krzyzewski’s career in the Final Four.
Had Love sought out a game-winner for himself, few would have blamed him. But he didn’t. He put the brakes on to avoid a charge, dropped a pass to Johnson, and watched his teammate convert an and-on to put Arizona up 70-69.
Showtime for the lead! @kj_showtime0
📺 ESPN2 pic.twitter.com/FX4TFL9mtY
— Arizona Basketball (@ArizonaMBB) November 11, 2023
Love made four free throws in the final 20 seconds to help Arizona secure a 78-73 win on the road over the No. 2 team in the country. He finished with 11 points and three assists. He went 3-for-10 from the field, connected on just one of his five 3s, and turned the basketball over six times, but his team got the win.
Late-game heroics belonged to everyone.
“I’ve been in environments like this,” Love told reporters after the game. “I’ve played in big-time games, big-time environments, so I’m kind of used to it. I wanted to come into this game, and I didn’t want to make it about me. I wanted to make this about my team.”
Added coach Tommy Lloyd: “I told him he deserved that moment.”
Everyone involved knew the subtext of the game for Love. Carolina-Duke on the hardwood is one of the best rivalries in all of sports. The Wildcats knew what Love was walking into. And the Duke faithful had to know Love was capable of engineering clutch moments late.
As Arizona flushed home a dunk at the buzzer — from a Love steal and assist — and the bench erupted, Love turned to the Cameron Crazies and let some emotion out.
Caleb Love with some words for the Crazies after Arizona wins. pic.twitter.com/H3rIUPSy9K
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) November 11, 2023
“Obviously it was on my mind for a little minute,” Love said. “As soon as I had seen they were on the schedule, my eyes got bigger. But we came in and handled business. That’s all that matters.”