Sunday, March 21, 1999

Temple focus on defending Duke

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — In a leap of logic only passionate sports fans could navigate, many who visited the Continental Airlines Arena to cheer for the Temple Owls on Friday decided that because their team had vanquished Kent, Cincinnati and Purdue, it now was ready for top-ranked Duke.

        That's what they said, anyway.

        “We want Duke.”

        “They don't know what they're talking about,” Temple coach John Chaney said. He has 27 years of head coaching experience, 605 victories and 15 NCAA Tournament appearances. He does not want Duke.

        He wants the Final Four, which he would reach for the first time if his Owls (24-10) were to win today's 2:40p.m. East Regional championship game. He does not want Duke.

        “I don't want to see them. I've got to see them. You think I want to see them?” Chaney said. “I was hoping the other team would kick their butts. Who wants to see Duke? My God. The fans that were screaming, they're probably outside jumping off of bridges now.”

        It is Chaney's good fortune to arrive in the Elite Eight for the fourth time and be forced to stand opposite the top-ranked Blue Devils (35-1), who have won their games this season by an average of 25 points and were somewhat sheepish after beating regional semifinal opponent Southwest Missouri State by only 17.

        The Owls topped that by beating Purdue by 22 on a night when they shot .527 from the floor — just short of a season high — and landed eight three-pointers.

        If Temple had been placed in any other region, who knows what might happen now? All that Chaney can be certain of is what must happen for the Owls to have a chance.

        “I know one thing they better do is play defense,” Chaney said. “I can never count on the offense. I can't think we're going to shoot that well. I've seen us at our worst.”

        In the NCAA Tournament, the team that hit just .409 from the field during the regular season has connected at a .483 pace, including 21-of-60 on three-point shots.

        Temple's game, though, is mostly about trying to force others to shoot less often and less proficiently than is their custom. This will be more difficult against Duke than any previous opponent, given the Blue Devils' 30-game winning streak and, more important, their remarkable variety of weapons.

        If defeating Temple's matchup zone is about firing three-point shots, guards William Avery and Trajan Langdon are a combined 17-of-27 in the tournament. If it is about getting the ball inside, there is All-America center Elton Brand. If it is about creating with penetration, small forward Chris Carrawell is an expert.

        “We've got a lot of different guys that can make jump shots,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “If they choose not to guard one of them, that guy's going to shoot the ball. We feel like we can spread defenses, do a lot of different things against zones.”

        The Owls contend they will force the ball toward forwards Shane Battier and Carrawell, each of whom has the capacity to produce a great offensive game but is less likely than the other starters.

        “If those guys get 30 points,” said Temple guard Rasheed Brokenborough, “that would be better than letting the stars kill us.”

        The Owls do not think Duke is unbeatable, because they've seen it done, even if it was all the way back in November when UC's Bearcats won the Great Alaska Shootout title.

        That game is a source of confidence, because it is, in a way, connected to Temple's season-making win over the Bearcats in last Sunday's NCAA second round. The Owls beat the team that beat the team.

        “We always felt we belonged here, and Cincinnati gave us a little momentum, because everybody up in Boston said we couldn't beat them,” Owls freshman center Kevin Lyde said. “And we did.

        “Duke is not unbeatable. They've been beaten this season, and it was a team we won against. We're not saying that's going to put us over, but we're going to go all out.”

        Duke has not played another team with the collective inside power Temple owns in Lyde and 6-foot-10 Lamont Barnes, who outmuscled the Bearcats. Those two will need to take turns applying physical pressure to Brand when the Owls are on defense.

        Temple's best reason to hope, though, is 6-3 point guard Pepe Sanchez, who has an assist/turnover ratio in the tournament of better than 3-to-1 and who might be just good enough defensively to disarm Langdon or Avery or both.

        “I'd be lying if I said I was just happy to be here. We want to win,” Sanchez said. “I'm not afraid. What's the worst thing that can happen? We could lose. They're not going to punch us.”