In San Francisco on Saturday night, Duke presented Mike Kryzewski with his coveted retirement gift: the record-breaking 13th Final Four appearance.
Khrushchevsky shone with joy as he hugged his players after the Blue Devils finished their 78-69 Elite Aid victory over the Arkansas team to extend his farewell tour for another week.
Duke, who showed great personal talent and maturity by relying on their youth, overcame Arkansas’ strong defense and no doubt wondered who would be the best team. The Blue Devils responded with another homemaker after opening the 12-point halftime lead and reducing the Arkansas deficit to five early in the second half.
“I feel so good about my comrades,” Kriszewski said. “In this NCAA tournament, my team plays very good basketball under stressful conditions. They were a close team before the NCAAs, but in these last four games, they have been very good.
Krzevsky surpassed John Wooden to make it to the top four finals of any college coach, knocking out racerbacks in fourth place. UCLA’s Wizard of Westwood went to the national semifinals 12 times from 1962 to 1975.
Waiting for the Duke in New Orleans will be either a NCAA match favorite or a Blue Devils historic match. If North Carolina defeats 15th-ranked St. Peters on Sunday, it will set up the first NCAA rivalry between tobacco road rivals.
Only four times before this season Duke and North Carolina have produced Elite Eight in the same year. It was not until 1991 that they both reached the final fourth place.
Of North Carolina Armando Pagot On Saturday afternoon he said he was “trying to get the subway view” in St. Peters, but the possibility of facing the Duke is hard to ignore.
“If I told you it didn’t cross my mind I would lie to you,” Pagot said.
If the Duke of North Carolina is the next opponent, the Blue Devils will be better prepared than they were when they last faced the Tar Heels. On March 5, North Carolina collided with Kryzewski’s party, ruining his last game at Cameroon 94-41.
Twice that night there were moments that seemed too big for Duke, and the Blue Devils seemed to hook up under pressure to send Krizewski out with a perfect last hurray. After the game, Kryzewski grabbed the microphone and apologized to his dozens of ex-players and the shocked, speechless crowd.
“Let me tell you – it’s unacceptable,” he said. “Unacceptable today, but the season is very acceptable. I tell you, the season is not over, right?”
Some useful conversations from that blistering speech helped set the Duke’s path to New Orleans. On Friday, Khrushchevsky said he regretted how he had handled the pain of the loss and that he had spoken to his players about it.
“I felt so bad for them,” Krishevsky said. “When I said ‘unacceptable’, they were not unacceptable .It’s an unacceptable decision and I wanted to make sure it was not misunderstood by them.
Another subtle and significant change made by Krzyzewski was the different use of the longer 20-minute half-time of the NCAA match. Instead of immediately starting a speech about what’s right and what’s wrong, Khrushchev spent much of his time listening to his players’ opinions.
“When I get to the locker room, I pull out a chair and I sit with them for about five minutes,” Kryzewski said. “That’s right, we’re here, talking to them.”
If the first two weeks of the NCAA match are any indication, Duke seems to be responding well to that gentle approach. The young Blue Devils seem to be growing and dealing with the pressure to send Kryzewski to retire with another ring.
They rallied for a second-round victory over Michigan State, despite being five minutes behind in play. They were then stunned by Texas Tech’s fancy defensive play in the Sweet 16, shooting only 71 percent off the field in the second half and not missing a single shot in the final eight-plus minutes.
No need to make a late comeback against Arkansas, Duke converted a game with an 8-0 rise to finish the first half. The Razorbacks went under 12 at half time, despite being within 4-6 points.
The mistake that really hurt Arkansas Chris LikesDecide to raise the 3-pointer with 10 seconds left in the half. By not running the clock any further, Likes gave Trevor Keels time to punch the razorbacks in the buzzer with a 3-pointer.