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SI in the locker room

Blue Devils have the swagger of a champion

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Posted: Saturday March 27, 1999 12:33 PM


Sports Illustrated's B.J. Schecter checks in from the Final Four in St. Petersburg with pregame thoughts.

Four teams with the same goal gathered together at Tropicana Field for the first time on Friday. But while each of the teams portrayed a business-like aura on the surface, it was clear that Duke had come here on a clear mission: win a national championship or bust. The Blue Devils are the main attraction at this year's Final Four, and as if they need any more inspiration, they have the memory of last year's South Regional Final here, in which they blew a 17-point, second half lead to Kentucky.

When he saw Tropicana Field for the first time in more than a year, Duke sophomore forward Shane Battier had goose bumps. "Last year when we came here we had no idea what we were doing," he said. "We were just a bunch of kids running around. This year Tropicana Field symbolized the end of a journey. Coming here means a lot more this year."

To contrast how differently the objectives were of Duke's opponent in Saturday's first game all you had to do was look at the T-shirt many Michigan State players wore in the locker room. It was a black shirt with green lettering that read, "The St. Petersburg Tournament, the Final goal." The final goal. The Spartans are clearly just happy to be here.

In one way or another, the other three teams are "happy to be here" while Duke won't be satisfied until they cut the nets down Monday night. Sure, Ohio State, UConn and Michigan State will tell you they're here to win a national championship, but no team quite has the swagger of Duke. When the Blue Devils took the court on Friday they received the loudest reception and pleased the crowd with an array of dunks and showmanship. If Friday was an indication of things to come, one thing was certain: Duke owned the court.

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