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At Least Duke's Logic Is Unbeatable

January 10, 2002|Robyn Norwood

So Duke won't go undefeated.

You didn't really imagine the Blue Devils would, did you?

The last team to go unbeaten and win the NCAA title was Indiana, in 1976.

Just to remind us all how long that has been, consider that Scott May, one of the stars of that team, will have a son playing for North Carolina next season.

Nevada Las Vegas made the last run at a perfect season, winning 34 games by an average of 27.6 points with Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony and Stacey Augmon before losing to Duke in the semifinals of the 1991 Final Four and disappearing into a swirl of NCAA trouble.

The point is, yes, somebody might pull off an undefeated season again, but it's nothing to wager on.

"Anything is possible," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "[But] that was never a goal and has never been a goal of mine. I think it's a ridiculous goal.

"The only time we want to be undefeated is when we're playing for the national championship."

These days, until a team makes it through the first round of conference play in hostile environments against teams that know each other inside and out, don't waste your speculation. It wasn't coincidence that the last of the unbeatens--Duke, Miami, Oklahoma State and Virginia--fell as conference play began.

The surprise was that Duke didn't lose to Maryland or Virginia or even Wake Forest or North Carolina State, but to Florida State--a team that lost to American four games earlier.

And Florida State didn't win by shooting lights out: It took only five three-pointers and shot 44.6% overall to fell the Blue Devils.

Count on this: Until Jason Williams--still the best player in the country--starts making free throws down the stretch, fouling him might be almost as common a strategy as Hack-a-Shaq.

Williams' 0-for-6 performance was alarming.

It wasn't a complete anomaly either.

The player who will have the ball in his hands down the stretch more than any other is shooting only 64.4% from the line, and shot only 65.9% last season.

"I've seen every player miss free throws. I think it's called being a human being," Krzyzewski said. "You're 20 and you're going to miss. These kids are not machines.

"I'm pleased he had the courage to take it to the basket and get fouled. I'll live with that."

Chris Duhon, the Blue Devils' other terrific guard, has been to the line only 18 times but has struggled too, shooting only 61.1%.

As a team, Duke shoots 67.7%, fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

So Duke lost a game, and such weaknesses as free-throw shooting, rebounding, and surprisingly enough, defense, become fodder for future game plans.

The Blue Devils can lose a few more and still be considered the best team in the country. But no team is remembered as the best unless it wins the NCAA championship. It would be a shame if Duke lost one from the free-throw line.

Krzyzewski doesn't act alarmed.

"Very few teams, very few people play every game to maximum intensity. That's your goal, but you don't always achieve it. Last year's team didn't do it either, and we won the national championship.

"It's a long season. Each team has to develop.

"My feeling is, let's get on to the next play."

There's one less thing for the Blue Devils to worry about, anyway.

"There were the only undefeated team, and that's pressure," said Maryland Coach Gary Williams, whose fourth-ranked Terrapins meet Duke for the first time this season Jan. 17. "Now they get the opportunity to go play without the pressure.

"For Duke, it might be a positive. It certainly gets everyone's attention.

"For the league, it gives you hope. If you play really well like Florida State, you have an opportunity."

Leave the last word to Krzyzewski: "You don't get a trophy for winning all your games--unless it's the last game."

Gooden Plenty

Kansas benefited from Duke's loss, becoming No. 1 in the Associated Press poll.

Perhaps that, along with the Jayhawks' CBS game against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday, will give Drew Gooden the notice he deserves.

Gooden is the nation's leading rebounder at 12.5 a game and entered the week as the Big 12's leading scorer, averaging 21 points.

Already this season, he has 11 double-doubles, including six in a row.

You decide which was most impressive: a 30-point, 18-rebound performance against Valparaiso that included 11 offensive rebounds and five assists, or a 25-point, 21-rebound game against South Carolina State that made him the first Kansas player since Dave Robisch in 1971 to have a 20-20 game.

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