MINNEAPOLIS -- As the bus carrying the Duke basketball team backed out of the Metrodome parking lot late Saturday night, one had to wonder whether it was going to stall or rev its engines and sail through the gates.
The bus, with the nameplate "Success Express" attached to the front window, seemed to have as much juice as the Blue Devils coming off a debilitating, three-point victory over Indiana in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
Which is to say very little.
"They wore us out," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said a few minutes before, as he walked with his players toward the parking lot.
So the question going into tonight's championship game against Michigan is this: Will the Blue Devils, who are looking to become the first repeat winners since UCLA in 1972-73, have anything left after seeing two players go down, and one go out, in their 81-78 victory over the Hoosiers?
Duke's resolve, which has been pushed to the limit several times throughout a 33-2 season, might receive its toughest test against a young and extremely talented pack of Wolverines, who are looking to avenge an overtime loss to the Blue Devils earlier this season.
"The expression you saw last night was more from the physical and emotional involvement of playing a team the caliber of Indiana," said Krzyzewski, whose Blue Devils nearly lost all of their13-point lead in the second half after trailing by 12 in the first half. "It really takes a lot out of you, especially after not playing well in the first half. We'll be fine by tomorrow night. We're accustomed to getting everybody's best shot."
Considering Duke's physical state, it had better be at full strength mentally. Senior forward Brian Davis, who missed one game in four years with an injury, might not play at all tonight because of a severely sprained left ankle. Sophomore forward Grant Hill will start in place of Davis, but could be limited by a bruised right knee.
But just as Duke -- the No. 1 team in the country all season -- is accustomed to being a target, so are the Blue Devils used to regrouping after injuries. They did after Bobby Hurley broke his foot against North Carolina in early February. They did it after Hill suffered an ankle injury similar to Davis' later that month.
"I think we're very resilient," said Hurley, who is coming off a game in which he tied his career high of 26 points, tied a school record with six three-pointers and carried Duke back from a 12-point deficit in the first half. "When something like this happens, we pull together. We feel everyone has to do more."
Said senior center Christian Laettner: "The ultimate feeling is to go out on a winning note, as a national champion again. As for Brian, I'm sure he's depressed, but we realize this is a team sport. I am a little disappointed for him, but I'll be more disappointed if we don't win the game."
If the Blue Devils are using Davis' injury as their rallying point and another national championship as a source of inspiration, the Wolverines also have some special motivation. All season long, Michigan (25-8) has redeemed itself for earlier losses by beating those teams later on.
It has happened several times, most recently against Ohio State in the final of the Southeast Regional last week in Lexington, Ky. If their overtime win over the Buckeyes showed that the Wolverines' "Fab Five" all-freshman lineup officially had arrived, then their overtime loss to the Blue Devils proved something else.
"It showed me how good we could be," said Wolverines coach Steve Fisher, who is looking to win his second national title in four years. "But, at the time, we thought we were a little better than we actually were."
In that game, Dec. 14 in Ann Arbor, Michigan fell behind by 17 in the first half, took a five-point lead in the second half, but lost in overtime after Hurley made some big shots and Michigan center Chris Webber fouled out.
The Wolverines have carried the memory of that loss with them through the regular season and the first five games of the NCAA tournament. Before they played Cincinnati in Saturday's semifinal, someone wrote on the locker-room chalkboard, "Pay back Duke, but beat Cincinnati first."
Now that Michigan disposed of the Bearcats, 76-72, is it payback time?
"I call it payback," said point guard Jalen Rose, who had 18 points and six assists in the 88-85 loss to the Blue Devils. "Duke is the defending champion. It's the final. If you can't get motivated playing for a national championship, there's something wrong with you."
Said Webber, who had 27 points and 12 rebounds in the game: "I don't care if Duke won the first time. I don't care if we were playing University of Detroit Mercy, I just want to win."
Will precociousness win out over precision? Will Duke start what many believe will be college basketball's first dynasty since UCLA? Or will freshman-dominated Michigan take its own place in college basketball lore?
First things first.