MINNEAPOLIS -- The Duke dressing room at the Metrodome was nearly silent at halftime Monday night. Coach Mike Krzyzewski had blasted his team, especially its two seniors, and was now outside with his assistant coaches. The players remained, still dazed by their lackluster performance against Michigan in the first 20 minutes of the NCAA tournament final. First Bobby Hurley spoke. Actually, he screamed. As fiery as Hurley is on the court, he can be just as quiet in most situations away from it.
This wasn't a normal situation: The Blue Devils were down by one to the Wolverines, but they seemed to have no legs. Or, in Hurley's opinion, heart. Duke was chasing history, a chance to become the first team to defend its championship in nearly 20 years, but it seemed to be losing ground.
"If we can't work hard for another 20 minutes," Hurley shouted to the other Duke players, especially at senior center Christian Laettner, "we don't deserve to win the national championship. If we can't do that, we shouldn't even go back on the court."
After Hurley was done, fellow junior Thomas Hill repeated the message. Then Krzyzewski came back in, a little more calmly instructing his players as to what he wanted them to do in the second half. The Blue Devils went out and beat the Wolverines, 71-51, for their second straight national championship.
The significance of Hurley's and Hill's taking charge wasn't lost in the Duke locker room.
"It was definitely them getting ready for next year," Laettner, who scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half, said of the team's two junior starters. "They're going to be the leaders of this team."
"When I was standing there listening to them, I said to myself, 'These are next year's captains,' " said senior forward Brian Davis, who was limited to nine inspirational minutes because of a badly sprained ankle.
"It was symbolic," said Duke assistant coach Mike Brey. "Mike [Krzyzewski] will find a way to use that next year when we start talking about the season."
It is a little early to start talking about a three-peat by the Blue Devils, who became the first team since UCLA in 1972-73 to win two straight NCAA championships, as well as the first since North Carolina in 1982 to start and finish the season on top of the polls.
But the foundation for next season was laid in the second half of Monday night's game against the Wolverines. While Hurley and Hill took over in the locker room, sophomore forward Grant Hill took over on the court.
"I don't think we could have won this game without Grant playing the way he did," Krzyzewski said later, after Hill finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. "Those three baskets he scored at the end of the first half kept us in the game."
Duke (34-2) was still close, despite making 12 turnovers and just 12 of 28 shots. And Laettner had the worst half of his college career, making two of eight shots and seven turnovers.
"It doesn't take a genius to figure out what he was telling me," Laettner said of the conversations he had with Krzyzewski after being pulled twice during the first half. "I wasn't playing very well. I was pathetic. Whatever he said worked."
In retrospect, it was what Hurley said at halftime that had an even greater impact on his teammates. Though he had only nine points on 3-for-12 shooting, Hurley's Most Outstanding Player Award should have been for being the Most Outspoken Player.
And Thomas Hill, who like Hurley always has allowed the upperclassmen to lead, wasn't too far behind Hurley in terms of giving his teammates a piece of his mind. His 16 points and seven rebounds didn't hurt, either.
"In the first half, it almost felt like we were giving up," said Hill. "We knew we had it in us, but it was a matter of getting it out."
It all came out during the last 5:41 when Duke turned a 48-45 lead into a blowout with a 23-6 run. While the experience of the Blue Devils in championship games showed -- this was their third straight -- so did the inexperience of the Wolverines and their all-freshman starting lineup.
The team that was going to shock the world was instead left in a state of shock. Though Michigan likely will start next season as the team to beat, Duke won't be far behind. Laettner and Davis will be gone, but the memory of this year's championship will go RTC back to halftime Monday night.
"It wasn't by design," said Hurley. But it had a purpose.
And it won't be forgotten.