Sunday, March 28, 1999
Duke vs. UConn: Best teams are final teams
The Associated Press
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. The Duke Invitational comes down to the Blue Devils and Connecticut, the first national championship matchup of No.1 seeds since 1993 when North Carolina beat Michigan.
It's UConn's first trip to the championship game, and it comes against a Duke program that has reached the Final Four 12 times and won back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992.
Duke and UConn were the only teams ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll this season.
You obviously have the best two teams in the country playing for the national championship, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. It can't get any better than that.
Duke's dominant season earned the Blue Devils the top seed in the East region and Connecticut was shipped West to what analysts thought was the easiest bracket in the tournament.
Now they have come together after UConn wore down stubborn Ohio State 64-58 and Duke held off Michigan State 68-62 in Saturday night's semifinals.
Between them, they have lost just three games this season. Duke was beaten on Nov.28 in the Great Alaskan Shootout on a last-second basket by Cincinnati. UConn won its first 20 games before losing to Syracuse on Feb.1 when Richard Hamilton and Jake Voshkul were injured, and then to Miami on Feb.20.
Coach Jim Calhoun and his Connecticut staff were set to spend Saturday night analyzing tape of the Blue Devils, who come in at 37-1. Duke won its first four postseason games by 41, 41, 17 and 21 points, but until Saturday, had not played a seed higher than No.6 Temple. It was the easiest path to the Final Four in tournament history, and the Blue Devils took full advantage.
UConn is justifiably proud of its 33-2 record, although its tournament games have been closer with wins by 25, 22, 10, 5 and 6 points. Against Ohio State, the Huskies struggled somewhat, letting 10-point leads melt away a couple of times when they allowed themselves to relax.
We played probably a very different game for us, Calhoun said. Offensively, we spurted and played terrifically well full court ... and then conversely we relaxed on defense and allowed them right back into the basketball game.
That won't do against Duke, an opportunistic team that seizes advantages and does not give teams second chances.
The Blue Devils experienced their first tough game Saturday night, and Krzyzewski was grateful for it.
That experience makes you better, he said. We're ecstatic about winning that type of game. It was more worthwhile and as fulfilling a win as we've had all year.
Krzyzewski said he hadn't looked at UConn yet, although his staff has.
I can't look ahead, he said. We know how good they are. We don't know their style completely. We will by Monday night, hopefully.
Calhoun thinks UConn can play better.
We truly believe we have a better game in us, he said. We played well together defensively, but I wasn't happy about our offense. I'm tremendously happy to be going into Monday night's game. But I think we have a better basketball game in us, and I hope we have that Monday night.
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