The matchup has been set and the tension is building up day by day. The last time Duke and Arizona squared off in the NCAA tournament was the 2001 national championship game in which Duke won 82-72. The win gave Duke its third national title and cost Lute Olson and Arizona their second.
Thursday's Sweet 16 matchup in Anaheim will be Arizona's first chance at retribution against Duke and the Wildcats have a tall order ahead of them. Head coach Sean Miller addressed the media in Tucson before the team traveled to California and answered many questions about the big time match up.
Miller says that the team is on an emotional high right now after its second and third round victories but knows that a high level of focus has to be achieved in order to be successful in the next round against Duke.
"It's an incredible feeling when it first happens when you are at your previous site and see the joy in the locker room," said Miller. "You really see the emotions and how much it means, and the reason it means so much is because it is so hard to do. I think at that moment in time every player and coach completely understands how hard it was and all that goes into it.
"Reality really sets in and the reality is that you want to play well in your next game and you prepare and then you get to the next site and I think that is where it starts over again. It is a renewed feeling of what you first felt at the previous site and that is the reality of being a part of this great tournament with 16 teams and the thrill that accompanies it."
Arizona got a lot of contribution from several players even after Derrick Williams was either in foul trouble or just was not hitting his shots from the field. Players like Solomon Hill and Jordin Mayes really stepped up and carried Williams and the Wildcats into the next round.
Miller does not want the rest of his team to be overlooked.
"We really have been, I believe, a true team in every sense of the word," explained Miller. "That is where our success should be credited. We have played 10 players I think in every game this season and we have played 11 in quite a few more. Those guys coming off of the bench that don't start are just as important to our success as the starters. We all recognize Derrick (Williams') terrific season and what he brings to the table but just like the other day when he was out of the game our team played pretty well."
Duke has their fair share of star players with the ACC player of the year Nolan Smith, last season's marquee player Kyle Singler and freshman sensation Kyrie Irving. Irving last played on December 4, 2010 before returning for the second round matchup against Hampton.
It seemed for a while that Irving would be the best guard in the country before his toe injury and Miller knows that preparing for Duke with Irving in the lineup makes it that much more dangerous.
"It is different to prepare for them because I don't know if there really has been a situation like this where such an elite player misses almost the entire season and returns for almost the most pivotal time of the year," said Miller. "We watched them a little bit with him and quite a bit without him and he is just an excellent guard. He is like some many great guards that have played at Duke. You look at Nolan Smith and him together out there and there are very few teams to have two guards that good out on the court at the same time."
In the limited action this season, Irving has averaged 16.4 points per game and 4.4 assists per game. But Nolan has been their star player this season, averaging 21 ppg and 5.2 apg.
Regardless of the names on the back of the uniform, head coach Mike Krzyzewski has been able to get every player since becoming Duke's coach in 1980 to play hard every moment on the court. It is something that Miller respects as an opposing coach.
"No matter who the coach is or what team you coach I think when you play Duke it starts with one thing and that is giving the proper respect that the deserve from the perspective of there is not a more hard playing, consistent team than them," said Miller. "Whether it is in the 40 minutes of the game they are playing or if you look at the full season. They take everyone's best shot and they don't flinch.
"For us, looking at our game that is the one thing that we are trying to instill on our team that this game is so much about great effort because the team that you are playing is great at that. They have a lot of talent, they have a great coach and their defense is terrific but it is their effort level that they play at that can really catch you off guard. We are trying to not let that happen to us."
There are not a lot of secrets for what the Blue Devils do rather it is a matter of stopping them. Duke shoots the ball well, does not turn over the ball a lot and plays great defense. One of the top strengths for Duke is one of Arizona's strengths on defense.
"They have struggled from the three sometimes in their losses and in their tight games," explained Miller. "I guess you can say that about any good team. But when they are making their three-point shots to me they are almost unbeatable. What you want to do is defend the three-point line as best you can.
"I will say that is something we have been very good at from start to finish and we are going to need to be really good at that on Thursday. That is one of our goals against them to do a really good job as good as any team has done at trying to making sure their three-point shots are challenged."
Defense is important for Arizona, who still has a lot of youth on its roster but has been getting it done in games. When facing Duke, there is a lot of history and bravado that comes along with the matchup.
Miller has shown his respect for Duke but wants his players to know who they represent as well.
"Part of it is the program we represent," said Miller. "It is not like this is a first time thing at Arizona and regardless of our current team's status the history of our program is that we are at a place that many Arizona teams have been at in the past. That helps."
Most of the players on Arizona where younger than 10 years old the last time Duke and Arizona faced off in 2001 and will need a history lesson on what happened in that game and what has transpired since then. Miller says they all know more than just a bit about how that game turned out between the two great programs.
"You have almost two giants in college basketball for such a long period of time," said Miller. "It only makes sense that some of the great games in the tournament, very meaningful games like national championship final four type games, have been played between the two programs. It is nice to play them again and if our program continues to grow the constant is that we will play them more because they are definitely going to be there."
Miller prepared for Duke's best
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