Taking turf war to courtTurf war played out on court

Basketball: Duke and North Carolina are Atlantic Coast Conference neighbors, but they will act like anything but today as one of college's best rivalries continues.

College Basketball

March 04, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The shortest commute in major college basketball stretches nine miles from Duke to North Carolina along state Highway 15-501. Not much time -- 15 minutes, and that's if you don't make all the lights -- to work up a good sweat and get prepared for what's in store.

That's all the time it takes. It doesn't matter if you're a legendary coach named Dean Smith or a legend-in-the-making named Mike Krzyzewski or a fast-rising coaching star named Matt Doherty. It doesn't matter if you're Duke All-American Shane Battier or North Carolina's 7-foot-5 redshirt freshman, Neil Fingleton.

"If we played Duke at an outdoor park on the Durham-Chapel Hill border, with no one around, it would still be a dogfight," said Doherty, a former Tar Heels player.

The two schools' rivalry is perhaps the most enduring and heated in sports. When it is renewed here again today, more will be at stake than merely bragging rights at the family dinner table or at the office water cooler. Already guaranteed the top seed in next week's ACC tournament, the No. 4 Tar Heels likely would secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with a victory.

"I don't want to share the ACC title with anybody -- especially Duke," senior center Brendan Haywood said Wednesday night, after the Tar Heels made Doherty the ACC's first coach to win at least a share of the regular-season title in his first season.

While some of the hype has been diluted by two recent defeats for Duke -- including Tuesday's loss to Maryland at Cameron Indoor Stadium -- and by the 20-point shellacking North Carolina took a week ago at Virginia, it won't make any difference when the ball is tossed up at the Dean E. Smith Center this afternoon.

While the chances of No. 2 Duke avenging last month's loss to the Tar Heels at Cameron Indoor Stadium seem diminished by the broken foot center Carlos Boozer suffered against the Terrapins, a Duke victory is not out of the question.

"I look at that game as great preparation for the ACC tournament and for the NCAA tournament," Krzyzewski said after practice in Durham on Monday, a little more than 24 hours before his Blue Devils were defeated by Maryland and lost Boozer indefinitely.

What the Duke-North Carolina games have long been are measuring sticks: for the players and coaches trying to make reputations for themselves or preserving their program's place in the pecking order, both in the ACC and nationally. It was never more apparent than after this season's first meeting.

Not only did the North Carolina victory break a four-game winning streak in the rivalry for Duke, it also gave Doherty tons more credibility than he had when he was hired to replace a retiring Bill Guthridge back in July.

Just ask his mentor, who happens to be the winningest coach in college basketball history.

"I think it was extremely special," Smith said last week. "It wasn't expected because they [the Devils] hadn't lost in the league and we were struggling. It put Matt's stamp on the program."

Said Doherty: "I think I enjoyed going into Cameron more than when I was a player. As a player, there's a lot of uncertainty. ... I don't know if winning that game was important, but I knew it was a great feeling."

Doherty also knows that the next time, he might need to talk a little more quietly in his huddles. Word got out that, to ease the tension during a timeout, Doherty reportedly told his players, "Duke still has the ugliest cheerleaders in the ACC."

The remark became fodder for chat rooms and talk radio shows, but at least one former Duke player said that it seems a little silly for fans -- especially Duke fans -- to get upset.

"I found it pretty funny, and so did my wife," said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, who married a Duke cheerleader.

For different reasons, Doherty's victory at Duke was similar to Smith's first win over the Blue Devils' Vic Bubas in 1964, as well as to Krzyzewski's first victory over Smith in 1984. Smith had lost to Bubas seven straight times and Krzyzewski had lost to Smith five times.

In Smith's case, it was a three-point win at Duke against a team that had gone to the Final Four in 1963 and would go again that season. It came days after the Tar Heels had lost by 22 points to Wake Forest, the ACC's other powerhouse team at the time, and after Smith had been hung in effigy by some North Carolina students.

"That was fun," Smith said of that Duke game. "I was happier for our players than I was for myself."

In Krzyzewski's case, it was a three-point win against North Carolina in the semifinals of the 1984 ACC tournament in Greensboro. It didn't matter that the Blue Devils would lose to Maryland in the championship game. When the team returned, bumper stickers appeared on campus to celebrate.

"I remember how bizarre a feeling that was," Bilas recalled. "I came from Los Angeles, and I really didn't understand what it meant."

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