Arizona vs. Duke through the years

Greg Hansen: Series of thorns, some flowers

Six meetings between powers have featured high intensity, sarcasm
2011-03-23T00:00:00Z 2013-09-17T16:19:27Z Greg Hansen: Series of thorns, some flowersGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 23, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Since 1987, the Arizona-Duke rivalry has provoked, inspired and sometimes paralyzed us.

On the eve of Arizona-Duke VII, a Sweet 16 with all due seriousness, we reminisce about the first VI:

1. Duke arrives two days late to the 1987 Fiesta Bowl Classic, 48 hours behind fellow combatants Florida and Michigan State, thereby missing Tucson's epic Christmas snowstorm of the 20th century and two days of splendor at then-new Ventana Canyon resort.

Explaining the Blue Devils' late arrival, Mike Krzyzewski famously tells Sports Illustrated, "How many cactuses can you look at?"

That's cacti, Coach.

2. Before Coach K became a basketball villain in the Land of Cacti, he was hospitable and chummy.

In June 1987, flying to North Carolina to work as a counselor in the Michael Jordan Summer Camp, UA star Sean Elliott found himself stranded at the Raleigh airport.

Two Duke assistant coaches recognized Elliott and drove him to nearby Durham and to Krzyzewski's house. Elliott slept on the coach's pull-out sofa bed. "All of my family fell in love with him," Coach K reported.

3. Elliott scores 31 points in the first UA-Duke game at McKale Center, winning the Fiesta Bowl title 91-85. It is the most points any player has scored in the series.

"He's the best I've ever guarded," says Duke's Billy King, recognized as the nation's top defensive player in 1987-88. "He's like Len Bias. He's not as great a leaper but has the same versatility and skills. Sean's arms are so long you can never get a piece of his shot."

4. In the 1987 game, Duke All-America forward Danny Ferry, charged with a foul near Arizona's bench, shouts, "We're getting homered," to Lute Olson.

Olson yells something at Ferry. At that, Krzyzewski charges toward Olson and is restrained by referee Booker Turner, who holds the two men apart.

"Who's the professional? Who's the kid?" Krzyzewski cries. "I would never yell at an opposing player."

5. In a 1989 rematch at the New Jersey Meadowlands, Arizona rockets to a 30-11 lead. Anthony Cook blocks five shots. But Duke charges back, only to lose 77-75 when freshman Christian Laettner misses the first of a one-and-one free throw with four seconds remaining.

Tensions remain high. Olson is assessed two technical fouls by ACC officials. "I didn't curse," he says. "Maybe they're not used to a coach who uses civil language."

6. Going to Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time, in February 1990, Arizona loses 78-76. Krzyzewski pitches an unforgettable fit before leaving the court at halftime, trailing 36-35. There is no technical foul. Coach K walks tall at Cameron.

Arizona out-rebounds the Blue Devils 45-23 but commits 22 turnovers, and point guard Matt Muehlebach is held without a field goal and fouls out.

"They've always got a hand on you; it's difficult to initiate your offense," he says. "You're not going to get a call here."

7. Arizona fans (all fans, really) insist that Duke gets all the calls. Oops. In the six-game series, Arizona is 130 of 193 from the foul line; the Blue Devils are 109 of 152.

8. Duke returns to Tucson in February 1991. The Blue Devils are ranked No. 7, Arizona No. 5. The Wildcats win 103-96 in double-overtime in a game again marred by tension and controversy.

In the first overtime, Duke guard Greg Koubek hits a three-point shot, but 57 seconds later, referees rule that it was a two-pointer. (TV replays later show it was clearly a three-pointer.)

"There must have been some confusion at the scorer's table tonight, but I guess they're not used to close games here," Krzyzewski says.

9. Duke has never been ranked lower than No. 9 in its six meetings with Arizona. The Wildcats have been ranked, in order, Nos. 1, 2, 21, 9, 1 and 5. Arizona is ranked No. 1 when it meets No. 3 Duke in the Maui Classic in November 1997. The Blue Devils win 95-87, limiting All-America guards Jason Terry and Mike Bibby to 4 for 24 afield.

"We were soft, and they were ready to kick our butts," says Terry.

10. Arizona's most effective player in the 1997 Maui game is none of the players returning from the national title team. It is freshman guard Quynn Tebbs, who makes three three-pointers in the last two minutes.

11. In the 2001 NCAA championship game in Minneapolis, Duke wins 82-72. UA guards Gilbert Arenas and Jason Gardner are, painfully, 6 for 28 shooting and miss all 12 three-pointers they attempt.

Wildcat fans cry a familiar refrain:

The officials favored Duke. But the free-throw numbers are too close (20 fouls on Arizona, 17 on Duke) to carry the argument.

12. Krzyzewski always stops short of sanctioning the Pac-10. After losing to the Wildcats in 1987-88 and 1988-89, Coach K says: "How good is Arizona? The question is how much better can the they get? By March, all of the other top teams will have been through World War III, while Lute's problem will be how to simulate this type of competition."

13. Point Guard U didn't earn its reputation against the Blue Devils. In the six games, the cumulative shooting statistics of Gardner, Terry, Bibby, Muehlebach, Matt Othick and Kenny Lofton were 9 for 36 afield, or 25 percent. They missed 19 of 24 three-point attempts.

14. After losing in double overtime at McKale in 1991, Duke All-America point guard Bobby Hurley said he was taken by UA power forward Brian Williams. "His athleticism and his intensity were impressive," said Hurley.

Williams was at his best against Duke; 43 points and 20 rebounds in two games, outplaying Laettner, who had 34 points and 14 rebounds in those games.

15. After recruiting/evaluating high school juniors at the Nike All-American Camp in the summer of 2006, UA assistant coach Josh Pastner tells me the Wildcats are not seriously recruiting Maryland prep guard Nolan Smith.

"We've got Jerryd Bayless coming in," Pastner said.

Smith, the Blue Devils star guard, enters Thursday's game with 1,903 points. Bayless scored 592 at Arizona.

16. In Arizona's 1997 loss in Maui, Blue Devil fans hold aloft signs reading, "SIMON SAYS NO."

As if to silence the Dookies, Miles Simon is the game's best player, scoring 25 points on 9-of-11 shooting. It doesn't help much; Duke leads 59-35 at one point.

"You're always going to get Duke's best effort," Olson says. "I can't say that for our guys tonight."

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