The day before their Final Four semifinal showdown, Duke and Arkansas were way, way up--possibly mile high.
Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson quoted Vince Lombardi, Martin Luther King and his grandmother.
“It’s like my grandmother said,” Richardson said, “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
Presumably, that goes for Hogs, too.
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski acknowledged Arkansas’ so-called “40 Minutes of Hell” up-tempo game, downplayed the Blue Devils’ Final Four experience and worried about the dry Rocky Mountain air.
It was snowing at the time. Could have been a dry snow.
The Razorbacks’ (30-4) prime motivation today is to rain points on Duke (28-8), which hopes to avoid getting caught up in a stampede from baseline to baseline.
“We’ll have to be able to handle their full-court press,” said Krzyzewski, who seemed amused by Arkansas’ self-styled “40 Minutes of Hell.”
“Coaches can name their styles whatever they want to,” Krzyzewski said. “There’s ’40 Minutes of Hell’ and there’s ‘Lethal Weapon 3' (the Georgia Tech offense). We don’t have anything. We play hard for 40 minutes, too. We just don’t have a name for it.”
This is Duke’s eighth Final Four appearance, third in a row and fourth in five years. And, although the Blue Devils have won no NCAA titles, they are not overcome with worry about Arkansas.
After all, Blue Devils ought to feel right at home in 40 minutes of hell.
“That’s just kind of a neat little thing to say, but I think we can give them 40 minutes of hell, too,” said Christian Laettner, Duke’s 6-foot-11 sophomore forward.
That remains to be seen. Although Duke has the edge inside with Laettner and 6-10 senior center Alaa Abdelnaby, height may not be much of a factor if Arkansas spreads the floor and runs as it wants to.
Duke critics abound, among them Razorback center Oliver (Big O) Miller, all 265 pounds of him. Actually, the Big O isn’t quite sure what he weighs.
When he weighed Friday at McNichols Arena, Miller was 275. But he said that earlier in his hotel room, he had weighed only 265.
“That was a little bitty scale,” Miller said. “So take your pick.”
As Miller sees it, the Hogs have a built-in advantage and not just because Duke will have trouble matching up in its man-to-man defense.
“We’ve watched some film on them, and we feel their big men can’t run with us,” Miller said.
Laettner said the film Miller watched must have been played at the wrong speed.
“I’m not worried about that,” he said. “I think Alaa and I can run just fine.”
Still, Duke didn’t play so fine against North Carolina, and Arkansas did. Duke lost twice to the Tar Heels and the Hogs defeated North Carolina in the NCAA tournament, 96-73.
What do the comparative scores mean to Krzyzewski?
“We’re glad we’re not playing North Carolina,” Krzyzewski said.
He may be sorry he’s playing Arkansas. Richardson has five players scoring in double figures, led by Todd Day at 19.3 points and Lee Mayberry at 14.9. They make up the “MayDay” attack.
Then there is Miller, who led the team in rebounding, blocked shots and shooting percentage. The Big O has Krzyzewski’s attention.
“He’s bigger than Alaa and Christian together,” Krzyzewski said.
The Blue Devils are heartened that 6-7 senior forward Robert Brickey is recovered from the hamstring pull that forced him to miss the second half of Duke’s victory over Connecticut in the East Regional final.
Bobby Hurley, the freshman point guard who dribbled his way through Connecticut’s smothering press, can try it again against Arkansas. Richardson already has made Hurley a marked man.
“I think a big key is how much pressure we can place on Hurley,” Richardson said. “Maybe he won’t make that fine a pass late in the game because of the fatigue factor.”