It's a long road back to glory for Blue Devils Facing Terps today, Duke trying to rebuild

January 28, 1996|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

When Duke made a nostalgic journey to Philadelphia last week, the Blue Devils found themselves locked in a cruel juxtaposition.

Playing at the Spectrum for the first time since their glorious 1992 NCAA tournament victory over Kentucky -- a 104-103 overtime thriller called by some the greatest college basketball game ever -- the Blue Devils were confronted with all of this year's demons.

Ineffective play inside, a thin bench depleted by injuries and another offensive collapse down the stretch conspired to deal Duke a painful loss against Temple.

"We had two great wins here a number of years ago," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of the 1992 East Regional. "This is now, that was then. That was great and this is bad."

Four years ago, Christian Laettner swished a 17-foot jumper at the buzzer to beat Kentucky. Three days ago, Chris Collins' 14-foot jumper to tie with six seconds left scraped off the front of the rim. The miss was a symbol of how far Duke has fallen two years after it lost to Arkansas in the NCAA title game.

If dynasties are rebuilt brick by brick, Duke (11-7, 2-4) will try to firm up its foundation today against Maryland (9-6, 2-3) in an Atlantic Coast Conference matchup at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The Blue Devils figure to start the same backcourt they used in that 1994 championship game. Only now, Jeff Capel, averaging 16.6 points, and Collins, averaging 15.9, have to carry a team that still is trying to establish itself.

The burden is especially wearing on Collins, the only scholarship senior on the Duke roster.

"To be honest with you, the last couple of years we've lost a lot like this," Collins said after the Temple defeat. "I can remember them all, [and] they're very bitter. We've lost a lot of different ways. We're trying to get over the hump.

"It's time for this team to really grow up. We're now in midseason. These are the kind of games we've got to show our maturity and come out with wins."

The Blue Devils are agonizingly consistent this season. They led at halftime in each of their four ACC losses (and against Temple as well). Plus, they've been in position to win at the end, losing three games by a total of 11 points.

But offensive collapses have become the signature of this Duke team. An 11-point loss to Virginia was marred by poor shot selection down the stretch. And, by Krzyzewski's admission, the Blue Devils panicked in a three-point loss to Clemson.

"I don't know what it is," said a puzzled Capel. "We start missing shots, the other team makes a run at us and maybe we kind of panic. We try to rush things, rush shots.

"That wasn't the case [against Temple]. We were getting really good looks. We were just careless with the ball."

Duke blew a 10-point lead against Temple by going scoreless for nearly six minutes down the stretch and without a field goal for more than eight.

Krzyzewski has been patient and supportive with his young team. A year ago, he missed the final nine weeks of the season to exhaustion and back problems. Duke went 4-15 without him, and a 13-18 finish ended the Devils' run of 11 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

"They're not coming in with huge confidence from last year," Krzyzewski said in classic understatement. "I thought we were over that in December, but we're still working on it. I really like these kids. They're giving me full effort. I just have to help them better."

Krzyzewski couldn't help losing Trajan Langdon early or Matt Christensen late to injury. Neither could he prevent the loss of 6-7 Tony Moore to poor grades.

What Duke is left with is a seven-man rotation and no inside players to speak of behind junior Greg Newton and freshman Taymon Domzalski, a pair of 6-10 post players. Duke plays mostly with a three-guard set that leaves the Blue Devils overmatched on the boards.

Krzyzewski said that distressing trend will continue "unless God makes Wojo [Steve Wojciechowski of Cardinal Gibbons in Baltimore] 6-8.

"This is what we've got. I think it's a good team. It's not a great team, [but] it's a team that can win. . . . Certainly, we're not imposing in warm-ups. We don't have a lot of people."

Still, Duke has shown signs of coming around. Collins hit a clutch three-pointer to beat North Carolina State two weeks ago, and the Devils pounded Florida State the next time out.

"That broke the confidence barrier for us to where we can win," Collins said. "We are a good team. We've got talent. We can beat people. We've just got to continue to play that way."

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