Sense of deja vu for Duke

Devils, USC raise memories of '92

March 24, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - Many had penciled a Duke-Kentucky rematch into their brackets for tonight's NCAA East Regional final at the First Union Center, a repeat of the game the two schools played across the parking lot at the Spectrum nine years ago.

That overtime classic, won by the Blue Devils, 104-103, on Christian Laettner's 17-footer at the buzzer, is considered among the best college basketball games ever played. It also catapulted the then-defending champion Blue Devils to their second straight title.

There will be no replay of that game - or of the South Regional final the two schools played in St. Petersburg, Fla., six years later and won by the eventual national champion Wildcats in the waning moments - but the story line for top-seeded Duke and sixth-seeded Southern California is eerily similar to 1992.

Again, the Blue Devils are led by two All-Americans, point guard Jason Williams and power forward Shane Battier. And, again, Duke (32-4) will be playing a team that has exceeded expectations. USC (24-9) beat third-seeded Boston College last week and second-seeded Kentucky on Thursday night.

"When we came here [this year], a lot of people were trying to re-create a moment in time that can't be recreated," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said yesterday. "As a result, we'll have to create our own moment. It could be as exquisite a moment [as in 1992] because you'll have two teams working hard."

USC (24-8) is the most dangerous of opponents at this time of the season, playing loose for the first time in memory under dictatorial coach Henry Bibby. They have nothing to lose. Yet the Trojans are not without some self-induced pressure, knowing how close they are to reaching the Final Four.

There is also some familiarity between the teams, they having played each other in last season's John Wooden Classic in Anaheim. USC forward David Bluthenthal recalled being in awe of Duke as he watched the Blue Devils warm up, something that shouldn't happen this time.

"It was the same thing when we played Kentucky," Bluthenthal said of his team's 80-76 victory in which the 6-foot-7 junior scored a game-high 27 points. "We can't look at their shirts. "We've just got to look at their faces and put the mystique out of our minds."

Said senior point guard Brandon Granville: "This is what we've all been dreaming about. One more game and we're in the Final Four, we get to go to Minneapolis, so the stakes are much higher this time around."

A victory for Duke would put the Blue Devils into their second Final Four in three years, their ninth in 21 years under Krzyzewski and the 13th in school history. An upset for USC would send the Trojans to the school's first Final Four since 1961 and only the third in school history.

"If you take getting a team to an Elite Eight for granted, you shouldn't be coaching," said Krzyzewski, whose only defeat in nine previous regional finals came against Kentucky, a game in which the Blue Devils led by 17 points in the second half.

Said Bibby, whose Trojans are looking to become only the second team in tournament history to beat the three top seeds in the same regional: "I'm happy with the way we've been playing and I have confidence that we will go out there and be competitive."

It should come down to whether the Trojans can slow down Williams, who scored 19 straight points for his team during a 34-point performance in Thursday's 76-63 victory over fourth-seeded UCLA. USC will also have to be mindful of Shane Battier, who had 24 points, 11 rebounds.

The Trojans confused Kentucky with their scrambling, matchup zone defense, but might have problems doing the same against Duke because the Blue Devils pass so well. Yet even Krzyzewski knows what USC guard Jeff Trepagnier is capable of doing, having watched him terrorize Chris Carrawell last year.

"Trepagnier makes it look like they have six players out there," said Krzyzewski. "Chris Carrawell had bad dreams about Trepagnier."

The Trojans would like to create a similar nightmare on Broad Street for the Blue Devils. They have no interest in re-creating history, of watching another Duke team pull out a classic and go to yet another Final Four. They want to erase Duke from the next-to-last line on the NCAA tournament bracket.

As for the Blue Devils, they are not worrying about their place in history, just a spot in Minneapolis, the place where they won their last national championship.

"We're a much better team when we play to win, instead of not to lose," said Battier. "Especially at this time in March. If we start to become conservative and worry about losing, you're not going to be at your best. I think we've been very successful at attacking and playing to win regardless of expectations."

East Regional

Tonight's final

No. 1 Duke (32-4) vs. No. 6 So. California (24-9)

Site: First Union Center, Philadelphia

Time: 7 p.m.

Conference records: USC was 11-7 in the Pac-10; Duke was 13-3 in the ACC.

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