A Different Duke

INDIANAPOLIS -- Coaches and players on both sides have repeatedly expressed doubt that WVU's 73-67 win over Duke in the second round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament would have any impact on tonight's national semifinal. But that game may have been a turning point for a Blue Devils program that, by all accounts, has a different identity now.

Indeed, much talk has centered around the "new" Duke team, built at least in some part to answer for the deficiencies the Mountaineers exposed that day at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.

No longer are the Blue Devils a "finesse" team, according to their players and coaches. With the increased presence of Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas (and the additions of Mason and Miles Plumlee), the perennial power from the Atlantic Coast Conference is capable of banging in the post.

Indeed, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his players have taken a page out of WVU's proverbial book and insisted their identity has been forged through defense and rebounding this season.

Krzyzewski and company will hope that strength helps them overcome the East Regional champions from WVU in the second of tonight's national semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"We've grown, especially since that loss to them two years ago," said Thomas, a junior forward. "Once you get an experience where you don't feel like you performed as good as you can in a certain aspect of the game -- I mean, I took it personal."

And for Thomas, who started but only scored two points and grabbed one rebound before fouling out in 21 minutes of play, that meant going to work on the glass.

"We got killed on the boards," he said. "Ever since then I've always tried to become a better rebounder."

But he was hardly alone in getting dominated by West Virginia that day.

The underdog Mountaineers, at the end of Bob Huggins' first season as head coach, had already sufficiently taken to his style of play -- enough to win the rebounding battle by a staggering 45-19 margin.

So Krzyzewski, of the three national championships and the seemingly endless accolades, saw that it was time for a change.

He recruited the physical Plumlee brothers (Mason is a freshman and Miles is a sophomore; both stand 6-foot-10). Meanwhile, Zoubek (who played only two minutes as a sophomore in the 2008 game) and Thomas went to work on improving themselves.

The result is a team that has grabbed 11.2 more rebounds than its opposition thus far in the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils are hauling in 15.8 offensive boards per game over the same span.

That's a departure from the past. And perhaps because of perception, many still expect Duke to struggle to in games against "tough" teams.

"We always play against teams who supposedly have more athletic big guys than we do," said Thomas, who averages 4.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. "At the end of the game, we usually outrebound them."

"I think rebounding is a mindset. I feel like some of it is physical, but if you don't have that mindset to go get that ball, you're not going to get it. I feel like that's the main thing we have. We have a mindset that we can go get the ball, and everything else will take care of itself."

And that mindset, perhaps the difference in the Mountaineers' conquest of Duke in 2008, is now shared by both teams.

Known before for an up-and-down, free-wheeling style, the Devils have made themselves sound like a squad capable of grinding out wins in the same way West Virginia has all season.

"Knowing both teams' style of play, we both want to get out there defensively," said guard Nolan Smith. "We want to scrap and be physical. It's definitely going to be the type of game that is going to be won by the team that makes the tough plays."

After being beaten on almost all of those occasions two years ago, Duke players said the memory of that embarrassment -- and the harsh words said by some Mountaineer players in a jubilant locker room -- will be fresh on their minds when the ball is tipped in tonight's second Final Four game.

"You do remember parts of what people say," said Blue Devils guard Jon Scheyer. "But for us, we know we were a different team, first of all. And they were a different team. They had a lot of different guys."

"For us, we're really not using that payback-type thing too much. Of course, we want to beat a team that knocked us out two years ago. Who wouldn't? That's our approach."

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