Arizona Wildcats finally get chance at rematch with Duke 10 years laterby Javier Morales on Mar. 20, 2011, under Sports
Former Arizona forward Richard Jefferson said it best in 2001, a day before the Wildcats played Duke in the national championship game.
“Duke might be one of the most hated teams in the country because they’re so good,” Jefferson said in a press conference. “Other players, I won’t say they’re sick of it, but they want to go out there and beat them. They want to give Duke their best shot.”
Allow me, Mr. Jefferson: They’re sick of it, and that feeling has not changed over the years. College basketball fans who do not have a rooting interest in Duke are sick of it, too.
Arizona finally gets its shot at Duke 10 years after the Blue Devils defeated Jefferson, Luke Walton and Gilbert Arenas and the rest of the Wildcats 82-72 in Minneapolis. The teams meet in the Sweet 16 in Anaheim on Thursday, a renewal of a rivalry that reached classic proportions when All-Americans Sean Elliott and Danny Ferry butted heads.
Granted, Derrick Williams was not quite 10 when the Wildcats lost the title game a decade ago. But it would not matter if he was a baby. If you took a poll of college basketball players who they would like to play and defeat the most, Duke would be a runaway choice.
I am not writing that most players and fans hate Duke. I am not pulling a Jalen Rose here.
“For me, Duke was personal,” Rose said during ESPN’s 30 for 30′s Fab Five documentary. “I hated Duke. And I hated everything I felt Duke stood for. Schools like Duke didn’t recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms.”
Others share Rose’s sentiment.
Hatred is a strong word. Duke, to me, is like the New York Yankees or Dallas Cowboys. Like Jefferson said, Duke is so good, you can’t help but want them lose, especially to an underdog, don’t you?
ESPN’s fascination with Duke, from the adoration of Dick Vitale (Dookey V., Lute Olson aptly called him once) to the constant TV appearances, is excessive.
Of course, the brand name of Duke certainly sells. No other student section is as popular as the “Cameron Crazies” at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. No other current college coach, football or men’s basketball, is more marketable than Mike Krzyzewski. Whenever Coach K, as they call him, steps down, Tobacco Road will go up in smoke.
No doubt about it, with all the popularity, national titles and Final Four appearances comes a bit of arrogance.
Arizona increased its victory streak to 61 games at McKale Center when it defeated Duke 103-96 in double-overtime in 1991. Thomas Hill, the Duke player who cried on the bench when Christian Laettner made that miracle shot against Kentucky in the NCAA tournament a year later, downplayed the Wildcats’ dominance at McKale Center after the 1991 classic.
“We knew about the streak, but it wasn’t any big deal for us,” Hill said, matter-of-factly.
Krzyzewski was taken aback when the Pac-10 refs who worked the game changed what was first ruled as a three-point shot by Greg Koubek to two points in the first overtime more than a minute after the play happened. This came after the well-documented verbal exchange of Ferry and Olson during the 1987 Fiesta Bowl Classic championship.
Olson suggested that Krzyzewski was on the refs all game, and at one point Ferry made a reference to the officials being “hometown refs” when he stood near the UA bench. Olson writes in his book, “Lute! The Seasons of My Life,” that he told Ferry, “Just play the game,” and he and Krzyzewski soon exchanged words.
The refs stopped the game, brought them together at midcourt and warned them of potential technical fouls if they did not cool down.
“For a team like Duke that does not get a lot of fouls called against them at home to complain about the officiating was absolutely ridiculous,” Olson wrote in his book.
No surprise that after the 1991 game that included the Koubek three-pointer reversal, Arizona and Duke have not played a regular-season game scheduled between the schools since. They met in the 1998 Maui Invitational title game, which was won by Duke, before meeting in the 2001 title game.
The Wildcats came close to playing Duke in the NCAA tournament three times since.
>> Arizona could have played Duke in the 2003 West Regional final in Anaheim but the Wildcats played Kansas instead. The Jayhawks, who beat the Wildcats to reach the Final Four, defeated the Blue Devils in the Sweet 16.
>> In the 2004 Southeast Regional, the Wildcats were bracketed opposite top-seed Duke in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 seed game. Arizona did not play Duke in Raleigh, N.C., because the Wildcats, the ninth-seed, lost to Seton Hall in the first round.
>> In the 2008 West Regional, the Wildcats were again bracketed opposite No. 2-seeded Duke. But the teams failed to meet in Washington, D.C., in the second round because the UA lost to West Virginia in the first round.
The rekindling of the late 1980s-early 1990s rivalry between Duke and Arizona finally happens again Thursday. The most significant difference is Krzyzewski will not match wits with his old nemesis Olson. He will coach against the young, spry Sean Miller, who has 165 career coaching victories compared to his 900.
Williams and Duke’s Kyle Singler will provide this chapter’s marquee players following the historic battles of Elliott vs. Ferry, Grant Hill vs. Chris Mills and Jefferson vs. Shane Battier.
Miller was asked after Arizona defeated Texas to put the win into context compared to his Elite Eight run with Xavier in 2008.
“Any time you can win in a tournament, it’s just magical,” he said. “You feel so good for your seniors, you feel so good for your own players. In our case at Arizona, you feel really good for our fans and our former players, Coach Olson, because so many great things have been established here, and we’re just trying to continue it.”
Continuing it against a program like Duke with a coach like Krzyzewski provides additional motivation. Like Jefferson said 10 years ago, there’s no question the Wildcats will want to “give Duke their best shot.”