PHILADELPHIA -- Like the man once said, it's deja vu all over again: Duke vs. Kentucky and batten down the hatches.
More than a quarter-century ago, the first time Cole Field House in College Park served as the Final Four site, these two longtime titans of college hoops met for what everyone figured was the national title of 1966 in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
Clear to mind are the casts: Duke featured Jack Marin, Steve Vacendak, Bob Verga, Bob Reilly and Mike Lewis while the smoothies from Lexington included Pat Riley, Louie Dampier, Tommy Kron, Larry Conley and Thad Jaracz.
It was high-speed basketball at its finest, the Wildcats winning, and every indication is that tomorrow's clash for the trip to Minneapolis next week will provide more of the same.
The troops looked ready to ramble in the East Regional semifinals last night, Duke getting rid of Seton Hall, 81-69, after Kentucky gonged upstart Massachusetts, 87-77.
Hard work is all well and good but, in the final analysis and with all due respect for our love for underdogs, these are the teams a fan, unencumbered by allegances, wants to see:
The Blue Devils, talented, deep, versatile, always well prepared and probably the best team at making changes on the fly while barely skipping a beat.
Kentucky, perpetual motion, all hands equally adept at shooting the ball, dribbling it and passing it around with rarely a fumble.
While leaving the Sweet 16 last night, for example, it was a subtle switch by Duke with a little less than eight minutes remaining that sent it on its merry way.
"We had them by 13 points at 64-51 when, bang, suddenly it was six," coach Mike Krzyzewski recalled. "They had tempo, their offense was beating our defense. We went to a zone to slow them down."
The Pirates became flustered, turned it over a few times as the victors went about their work without emotion but with their usual resolve.
"When the game's on the line," noted Seton Hall coach P.J. Carlesimo, "their guys step up."
It was a laudable effort that got Seton Hall back in the game, albeit for a fleeting stretch, after it was outplayed considerably in the first half.
"We didn't play with confidence at the beginning," said Carlesimo, who had to be happy his club never trailed by more than eight at 10-2, 18-10 and 24-16.
"The lead was six at halftime [38-32], but we probably should have had it up in double digits," said Krzyzewski. "The fact they don't turn the ball over and both teams having to play so hard on defense for long stretches had everyone tired."
While the nightcap was tough, in-your-face warfare fairly close in to the basket, the Kentucky-UMass bash was run, gun and run some more.
"We couldn't execute any better than we did and it's a tribute to them [Minutemen] they kept coming back and back," Kentucky coach Rick Pitino said.
The Wildcats, who led by as many as 21 points in the first half, jammed 20 points through the hoop in the first six minutes. They hit their first eight shots. This sounds phenomenal until you stop and consider six of them were layups.
Massachusetts was back to within eight at halftime (50-42) by cutting off passes to muscular Jamal Mashburn, frolicking underneath, and actually got to within a bucket at 70-68 when strategist John Calipari was whistled for a technical for stepping out of his coach's box.
Talk about a chicken call. It only meant two points, but as one of the players, Anton Brown, said, "The call definitely took a lot of the wind out of our sails."
Pitino said, "Aw, I think we would have won anyway. Of course, I always think that way. But at the time we were scoring every time downcourt, in that period getting 10 uncontested points off layins."
Pitino then revealed one of the secrets that has led to his team's winning 14 of 15 games after losing three of four in January: "Our reputation as a three-point [shooting] team has helped us. It has allowed us to score 50 points a game in the paint during the second half of the season. We got 55 inside tonight."
Pitino was hoping, of course, Krzyzewski would fall for the bait, instruct his troops to pack it in to stop Mashburn underneath, freeing up his long-range marksmen.
Duke will do that and a lot more. Kentucky is no slouch when it comes to throwing both the offensive and defensive manuals at the opposition.
Oh, completing the history lesson from that last big meeting between the Blue Devils and Wildcats way back when. Sure, Kentucky won, but, in the final, it got rubbed out by the Massachusetts of its day, Texas Western, now known as Texas-El Paso, a team playing in the Midwest Regional semifinals tonight.