The University of Louisville basketball team has avenged three of its five losses already in a second meeting with opponents this season.
U of L coach Rick Pitino typically has his teams ready later in the season when the Cardinals meet someone for a second time.
Now, the Cardinals get a shot to do it yet again.
A 76-71 loss against Duke on Nov. 24, Louisville gets to play the Blue Devils again on Sunday at 5:05 p.m. in the Midwest Region final of the NCAA Tournament – with a trip to the Final Four at stake – in Lucas Oil Stadium.
"There's so much at stake with this game because it means the Final Four," Pitino said. "So really, past performances don't mean a whole lot.
"It's going to be a hard, hard fought basketball game and we know that."
In the first meeting the Cardinals didn't have center Gorgui Dieng, who was sidelined with a broken left wrist, and have four bench players who have dramatically improved their games since early in the season.
"Duke has gotten better but so have we," senior guard Peyton Siva said. "We have gotten a lot better. Our bench has really stepped up, Montrezl (Harrell), Kevin (Ware), Luke (Hancock) and SVT (Stephan Van Treese).
"We're a totally different team than we were early in the season."
Added Dieng: "Our bench is scoring more than our starters if you take Russ' (Smith) points out of there. We have really improved a lot."
Louisville (32-5), which has won 13 straight games, was ranked No. 2 in the polls when then No. 5 Duke won in November. The Blue Devils had all five starters score in double figures in that first meeting.
Peyton Siva led Louisville in that meeting with 19 points, while Russ Smith was just 7 of 19 from the field and had 17 points. Wayne Blackshear, Chane Behanan and Luke Hancock combined that game to shoot 3 of 14.
Duke's Quinn Cook scored 11 of his 15 points in that game after Siva hit a three-pointer to give U of L a 59-58 lead in the contest.
The addition for Dieng will be huge for the Cardinals against the Blue Devils. Duke center Mason Plumlee said he "gives them a different dimension."
And Pitino said he was really pleased with Dieng's effort against Oregon on Friday night. He's averaging 10 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game.
"I know he's obviously better than Zach Price and Stephan Van Treese, but both of those guys played terrific in that game," Pitino said. "If one of those guys had played poorly, you could say it's going to be a big difference."
But Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski noted Dieng is a big addition.
"They're better and we're better," coach K said. "They were interrupted early, and they haven't been interrupted since then with injury. We have been interrupted since then. But the fact that we played and won I don't think is significant."
The game also pits Pitino vs. Krzyzekwski for the first time in an NCAA Tournament game since 1992. Yes, that was when Duke beat Kentucky, then coached by Pitino, on the now-famous Christian Laettner shot.
Duke was the No. 1 seed then and UK was the No. 2. Both coaches said that game is one of the best in the history of the game.
"Well, we've been friends from that point on," Pitino said. "Both of us looked at the game a lot different than the Kentucky fans or, for that matter, the Duke fans. Both of us just sat back and coached and watched an incredible offensive display. Even when we played the overtime without (Jamal Mashburn) Mash, it was a great game. Anytime you write a whole book about one game, it's kind of special.
"We came on the losing side, but I've had the Kentucky fans always say it's one of the worst losses. To me, it's one of the best losses I've ever had. A bad loss was Providence last year by 31 points. A bad loss is something where you guys play terrible. It was a great loss because my guys played almost a perfect game and just had the wrong ending for us. But it was one of the greatest basketball games ever played because it was so high powered with great play. It was just one great play after another. That was fun to be part of it."
The current U of L players were asked about the '92 game and the significance of playing for the coach who was in that game.
"I wasn't even thought of when that game was going on," sophomore Chane Behanan saod. "But I have saw the same highlight over and over on ESPN. And it's a new era. Coach, he's much older now, more wiser. So we know we're going to do a little things differently now.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
There were so many to chose from. But the one from Pitino talking about Christian Laettner seemed to be the best:
"I did a Vitamin Water commercial with Christian Laettner. A lot of Kentucky fans don't like him. I got to know him and still don't like him. I'm only kidding, I'm only kidding. He's a good guy. I'm joking."