Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski refused to let his players think about facing North Carolina for the first time in the NCAA tournament after the Blue Devils secured their ticket to the Final Four with a victory on Arkansas.
They have no choice but to think about it now.
The Tar Heels dealt with the last of the underdogs on Sunday by overtaking 15th-seeded Saint Peter, hosting a Final Four for the ages in New Orleans: Duke-Carolina for the first time in the tournament and retiring. Coach K’s final appearance on college basketball’s biggest stage. The winner gets Kansas or Villanova for the national championship.
“I saw something that Bill Self said about the regional championship game,” Krzyzewski said of his Kansas counterpart, “that’s really the biggest game a college coach has to coach, because it takes you to the promised land.
“For me to have that, I guess it’s 17 times now, that’s a big thing for me. I’m so proud of that,” Krzyzewski said, “that my teams put us in that position and it’s us I’ve won 13 now, and whatever happens afterwards, it happens. But it’s a hell of a thing. We’ve won a lot in the tournament, and we’ve won a lot of games, but the Final Four are big.
The biggest could be Saturday night.
Duke and North Carolina have met 256 times, including in Krzyzewski’s last game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, when the Tar Heels ruined the night with a win that propelled them to the Final Four.
Yet somehow the bluest of the bluebloods never collided in the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m not even thinking about that right now,” said Hubert Davis, who played for the Tar Heels in the Final Four and brought them back in his first year as head coach. happy for our guys to have the opportunity to play in the Final Four. It’s the only thing I can think of.
The Blue Devils locked their spot Saturday night when Paolo Banchero and Co. used a big run to tidy up Arkansas and send Krzyzewski’s farewell tour to the Big Easy. It will be his 13th trip to the Final Four, breaking a tie with UCLA’s John Wooden for the most in history, and making it 17 in all for the Duke program.
“We knew we could do it, and that’s what we’ve been working for since June. To finally arrive in New Orleans and have a chance to play for a national championship is a blessing. I’m just proud of how we got together.
North Carolina will be making their record-breaking 21st Final Four appearance, and the four teams heading to the Superdome have combined to make it an incredible 61 times. Together they have cut the net 17 times.
Villanova also locked down their trip to the semifinals on Saturday by beating Houston in a low-scoring slugfest. It’s the seventh Final Four appearance for the Wildcats, including one from the 1970s that the NCAA forced them out of, and gives a chance for Jay Wright to join a rare company by winning his third national championship.
The list that would stand before him was Wooden with 10, Krzyzewski with five and Adolph Rupp of Kentucky with four.
“It’s great to be back in the Final Four. It never gets old,” said Wright, whose 2016 team beat Kansas and North Carolina on their way to the title and whose 2018 team won. defeated the Jayhawks again in the Final Four before dominating Michigan for the championship. “It’s every college basketball player’s and coach’s dream. It’s the ultimate.”
The Wildcats will be without Justin Moore, however, after announcing Sunday that their second-leading scorer would have surgery this week for a torn Achilles tendon. Moore was injured in the final minute of the win over the Cougars.
“It’s a blow to all of us, not just because of the great player that Justin is, but because of what he means to us as teammates and coaches,” Wright said. “As one of our captains, Justin has been an integral part of our success.
While the Jayhawks had plenty of trouble with Villanova over the years, their real problem had been escaping the regional finals. But they were successful with Miami in the second half on Sunday in Chicago, building on their superior speed and their athleticism to turn a six-point deficit at the break into a 76-50 blowout.
Now the Jayhawks – who earlier in the tournament overtook Kentucky as the winningest school in Division I basketball – are back in the Final Four for the 16th time, and Self is two wins away from his elusive second title.
“I’m just proud of my team and proud of Coach Self. It’s great for the program and the university,” said Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji, a first-team All-American and Big 12 player. of the year. “I’m not done yet. And I’m not happy with that yet. I know my teammates aren’t either.”
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