NEW YORK -- Finally, the Arizona Wildcats can let all that let's-not-look-ahead stuff go.
They are playing Duke on Friday in the NIT Season Tip-Off finals, as expected and anticipated. It'll be for the first time since UA knocked off the Blue Devils in the 2011 Sweet Sixteen.
Duke reached the NIT finals tonight after taking an 11-point lead at halftime and holding off Alabama's late charges to win 74-64. The Blue Devils shot 43.1 percent from the field and had 19 turnovers -- "we were tight offensively for some reason," coach Mike Krzyzewski said -- but kept the Tide to just 2-of-12 three-point shooting.
Alabama engineered most of its offense with drives but Krzyzewski said he expected a different kind of challenge with Arizona.
"Arizona is older and they're really big," Krzyzewski said. "I’m just glad we have the opportunity to play for a championship. Arizona is probably ahead of some other teams, Arizona and Michigan State (are). They have guys who played prominent roles back, and they added a great guard and a great wing to their lineup.
"They're big. It'll be completely different from playing this game. ... (Arizona) can post three guys from their starting lineup -- they post (Aaron) Gordon. And we're not real big so that will be interesting how we try to get that going."
Duke had to rely on freshman forward Jabari Parker for much of its offense in stretches tonight, which usually works out pretty well for the Blue Devils. Parker had 27 points on 9-for-12 shooting and made 9 of 10 free throws while collecting eight rebounds, having scored at least 20 points in all seven of his college games so far.
"I just do whatever I have to do for my team," Parker said, insisting that he actually has "a long way to go."
Duke is now 6-1, having lost to Kansas in Chicago on Nov. 12 while beating Davidson, Florida Atlantic, UNC Asheville, East Carolina and Vermont before tonight. But lowly regarded Vermont lost just 91-90.
"Teams play well against us," Krzyzewski said. "It's a great opportunity for the sun to shine on a program. We have to expect that. I have a young group and they're not accustomed to seeing a different team than the one they see on tape. But with Alabama, they were the same team and we played well."
Krzyzewski appeared to take offense when asked how he might develop a killer instinct with the Blue Devils.
"First of all by having killers. That's the best thing," Krzyzewski said. "Are you suggesting we don't have a killer instinct?"
The reporter, who regularly covers Duke, mentioned Alabama's 12-0 run in the middle of the second half that cut the Blue Devils' lead from 18 to 6.
"Yeah. Well, I would say we're playing a good team," Krzyzewski said. "So when you watch basketball, like tomorrow, there will be numerous games on. Check how many teams will have leads and somebody comes back on them. Would you ask that same question of all those coaches who lost in runs?...
"It's too bad you couldn't give credit for someone who really played well tonight. When that does happen, and a team doesn't fold, that's spectacular. A lot of teams in that situation would lose the game. I guess we had enough killer instinct to survive and win by 10 points. I'm very, very proud of my team."
Krzyzewski then walked off the podium without answering any further questions.
"Happy Thanksgiving," he said.
The Wildcats may have pulled out their win over Drexel by turning around their offense, passing more and staying patient, but what gave them a chance to do that is that their defense and rebounding generally never left.
Even in the first half, when Arizona shot just 26 percent, the Wildcats outrebounded Drexel 23-19 and held the Dragons to 36.4 percent shooting.
“We’ve just gotta calm down, don’t get antsy on offense, and play how we play on defense,” guard Nick Johnson said. “We believe we’re one of the best defensive teams in the country and we’re trying to improve that. So we just keep on sticking to our identity.”
UA coach Sean Miller agreed.
“We have to defend,” he said. “As much as I’m critical about our rebounding, if you look at the numbers, 46-37 (UA's rebounding advantage), that’s a big stat for us. I thought we had more second shots in the second half than the first.
“Rebounding is a big one. You have to do a good job as a team.”