Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski refused to let his players consider the possibility of facing North Carolina for the first time in the NCAA tournament after the Blues hit the Final Four with a win over Arkansas.
They had no choice but to think about it now.
The Tar Heels took care of the last underdog on Sunday by bypassing 15th seed St. Peter, preparing the Final Four for the ages in New Orleans: Duke-Carolina for the first time in the championship, and into the final of retired Coach K. Appearing on the biggest stage in college basketball. The winner gets to KS or Villanova for the national championship.
Krzyzewski said of his Kansas counterpart, “I saw something Bill Self said about the regional championship game, it’s really the biggest game a college coach should train, because it makes you step into the promised land.
“For me to have it, I think it’s 17 times now, which is a big thing for me. I’m very proud of that, because my team put us in this position and that’s what we’ve won now 13 of them, and everything that happens after that happens,” Krzyzewski said. But it’s a heck of a thing. We’ve won a lot in the tournament, we’ve won a lot of matches, but the Final Fours are big.”
It might be bigger on Saturday night.
Duke and North Carolina have met 256 times, including in the final Krzyzewski coaching game at Cameron Indoor Arena, when Tarr spoiled the night’s heels with a win that helped propel them to the Final Four.
However, one way or another, he never hit a blue-blooded blue in the NCAA Tournament.
“I just don’t think about that right now,” said Hubert Davis, who played for Tar Heel in the Final Four and led them in his first year as head coach. “At the moment, I am very happy that our players have a chance to play in the Final Four. That is the only thing on my mind.”
The Blue Devils held their place on Saturday night when Paulo Panchero & Co. used a big run to banish Arkansas and send Krzyzewski’s farewell tour to the Big Easy. It would be his thirteenth trip to the Final Four, breaking the tie with UCLA’s John Wooden for the most in history, and hitting 17 on the Duke Show.
“We knew we could, and that’s what we’ve been working towards since June,” Banchero said. “Finally getting to New Orleans and getting the chance to play for a national championship is a blessing. I’m just proud of the way we met.”
North Carolina will set their record 21st in the fourth final, and the four teams headed to the Superdome combined to make it a stunning 61 times. Together, they cut the net on 17 occasions.
Vilanova also closed out her semifinal journey on Saturday when she beat Houston in a slow game. It’s the seventh appearance in the Final Four for the Wildcats, including one from the 1970s that the NCAA forced them to vacate, and it gave Jay Wright a chance to join rare company by winning his third National Championship.
Which list will stand before him? Wooden with 10, Krzyzewski’s with five and Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp with four.
“It feels great to be back in the Final Four. It never gets old,” said Wright, whose 2016 team beat Kansas and North Carolina en route to the title and whose 2018 team beat the Jayhawks again at the Final Four before Michigan topped the championship. It’s a dream for every college basketball player and coach. It’s the final.”
The Wildcats will be without Justin Moore, despite the announcement on Sunday that their second leading scorer will have surgery this week for a torn Achilles tendon. Moore was injured in the last minute of the win over the Cougars.
“This is a severe blow to all of us, not just because of the amazing player Justin, but because of what he means to us as teammates and coaches,” Wright said. “As one of our team captains, Justin has been an integral part of our success.”
While the Jayhawks have had a lot of trouble with Villanova over the years, their real problem was escaping from the regional finals. But they made their way with Miami in the second half on Sunday in Chicago, relying on their breakneck speed and sportsmanship to turn their six-point deficit down to 76-50.
Now, the Jayhawks — who topped Kentucky State earlier in the tournament as the most winning school in a Major League Soccer — are back in the Fourth Final for the 16th time, and Self is two wins away from their elusive second title.
“I am proud of my team and proud of Coach Self. It’s great for the program and the university,” said Ochai Agbaji, the Kansas guard. “But we’re not done yet. I am not satisfied with this yet. I know my teammates are not.”
More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness, https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball, https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
“Thinker. Wannabe twitter lover. Entrepreneur. Food fan. Total communicator. Coffee specialist. Web evangelist. Travel fanatic. Gamer.”