Hoops: Horns, Blue Devils Clash For No. 1

Fans around the country normally have to wait until early April to see the nation's top two basketball teams square off, but that is not the case this year.

Not since 1998 have the top ranked teams been pinned against each other during the regular season, but the streak ends on Saturday afternoon when No. 2 Texas (8-0) heads to East Rutherford, N.J. to face No. 1 Duke (7-0).

The Longhorns, who are off to their best start since the 1981-82 season, have the opportunity to do something never before done in Texas history — knock off the top team in the nation and claim the No. 1 position in the polls.

If history is any indicator, Texas fans should be happy to know the lower-ranked team has won the last two times the top teams have faced each other before the NCAA tournament, and in both cases (1994 and 1998), it was higher-ranked Duke which lost.

The game is outside of Duke’s own Cameron Indoor Stadium, but the Blue Devils still enjoy a home court advantage.

"Say what you want about neutral territory," said coach Rick Barnes, "but everyone knows it’s a home game for them and away game for us."

For Barnes, the game provides a chance to show off his program to an area typically dominated by ACC teams.

"It’s important to play these games to showcase Texas basketball," said Barnes. "We aren’t going there just to play Duke, we are going to give some exposure to our team."

The game does more than just help Barnes expand his recruiting reach — it gives the team a chance to prove its legitimacy.

"If we win, it will open some eyes and show that Texas basketball is for real," said G Daniel Gibson.

Saturday’s matchup marks the third meeting between the two teams, with Duke winning both previous games, including an 89-61 win in Madison Square Garden in 2003.

When Texas last faced Duke, the Horns already had a regular-season loss entering the contest, but this time around, Texas is riding the wave of an eight-game winning streak and is coming off a dominating 27-point victory over Rice earlier in the week.

Meanwhile, Duke has looked vulnerable and needed a last-second half-court prayer to beat Virginia Tech on Dec. 4.

Guard J.J. Redick leads the way for the Blue Devils. The senior sharpshooter averages 22.7 points a game and is shooting an impressive 44.2 percent from behind the arc.

But according to Barnes, Redick brings more to the table than just a dangerous shot.

"He is more than just a great shooter," said Barnes. "He has gotten himself in tremendous shape and can move without the ball. He has a chance to be Duke’s all-time leading scorer, and that’s saying something."

Keeping Redick in check takes more than one man.

"You have to keep your eyes on him at all time," said F Brad Buckman. "He does such a great job of moving away from the ball that it takes a team effort to control him."

Forward Shelden Williams is Duke’s other main weapon. The senior returns as the reigning National Defensive Player of the Year and is consistently good on both ends of the court.

Williams is averaging a double-double with 18.3 points and 10 boards a game, and is also the team’s inside enforcer with 26 blocks so far this season.

The national spotlight might be on this game, but according to Barnes, the pressure is not.

"Its just one game," said Barnes. "It’s not going to make or break our season. It will certainly be a highlight and we want to win, but the fact is, we have a long road to go."

The hype surrounding the game has failed to impact the Texas players, who will be donning black uniforms in Saturday’s game to commemorate 100 years of Texas basketball.

"It doesn’t matter what jersey we are wearing," said F P.J. Tucker. "We could be wearing practice uniforms out there and it would still just be basketball."

"We look at it as just another game on the schedule," added Gibson.

Barnes sees Saturday’s game as just a step on a long road ahead for Longhorn basketball.

"Even though it’s been 100 years of Texas basketball," said Barnes, "I think in some ways, we are just getting started."

Tipoff is at 12:30 p.m. Central on Saturday, Dec. 10 and will be televised nationally by CBS.

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