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While normally loosey-goosey UNLV withdrew into a tight knot, Duke spent the first five minutes of its Friday practice, which was open to the public, staging a slam-dunk contest. Krzyzewski lamented that his team had been quartered out by the airport, rather than downtown where the Blue Devils could be among their fans. And he played possum, talking up UNLV at every turn: "The more tape you watch of 'em, the more scared you get of 'em." And: "The last time we played Vegas, they beat us by 30. The last time we played North Carolina, they beat us by 22. And I just found out that Roy [Williams] runs the same system as [Tar Heels coach] Dean [Smith]. So what the hell are we doing here?"
Kansas earned its place in the final in a game disfigured by more than 150 substitutions and the ugliness that prevails when the defenses know exactly what the offenses are trying to do. This was because Williams had apprenticed under Smith for 10 years. To counteract the Tar Heels' familiarity with the Kansas attack, late in the first half Williams's players decided to go out and improvise, and the Jayhawks came up with more, and better, shots than did North Carolina, the team from which they supposedly had been cloned. "It came down to the free-lance game, and we did it better," said Kansas forward Alonzo Jamison.
Faced with having to watch a full minute and a half of guys in the wrong shade of blue using his venerable four-corners delay offense to ice a 79-73 victory, Smith was put out of his misery with 35 seconds to play and the Jayhawks ahead by five. Referee Pete Pavia slapped Smith with his second technical foul of the game, which is grounds for automatic ejection. Pavia is in the midst of a heroic fight with cancer, and he can be presumed to know what in life is and is not worth getting steamed up about. But his thumb has also proved to be a quick one. He ran Georgetown's John Thompson from a game in Syracuse last season, Connecticut's Jim Calhoun from a Big East tournament game in March and Oklahoma's Billy Tubbs from last week's NIT final. Injudicious bellyaching earned Smith his first T, late in the first half, as Kansas built the lead it would protect the rest of the way; the second was for leaving the coaches' box while deciding whom to send in for Rick Fox, who had fouled out. "I was asking how much time was left for me to make my substitution," said Smith. "He answered my question with a technical."
As Smith took his leave, he stopped to congratulate Williams. Then he made his way along the length of the Kansas bench, greeting each opposing player as he went, like some uncle at a family reunion. In the tunnel the minicams caught up with him, and here Smith must have realized he was infringing on Williams's moment. He grinned, did his best paparazzi ward-off gesture and strode away. Security guards had to restrain Bill Guthridge, Smith's longtime adjutant and Williams's jogging partner all week, from going after Pavia when the buzzer sounded. But woeful shooting had more to do with the Tar Heels' fate than anything any referee did. "It was like losing to a friend," said Fox, the Tar Heel forward whose 5-for-22 performance was an advertisement for the quality of the Kansas defense.
Outsiders have subjected Krzyzewski to the same easy presumptions as they have Williams. Call it the protégé's curse. "My only pet peeve is when people ask, 'Did you call [Knight] to find out what you're going to do?' " Krzyzewski says. "C'mon, man."
That Krzyzewski would say "C'mon, man" should be enough of an indication that Knight he's not. Certainly Knight would never share with the public so much vulnerability. The Krzyzewski who began this season was, by his own admission, a mess—scarred by last spring's title game and frazzled by a summer of coaching a U.S. national team to a silver medal at the Goodwill Games and a bronze at the world championships. He knew his off-season duties would exhaust him and feared they would adversely affect his Duke team. Thus he left more recruiting and public-speaking responsibilities to his assistants and trusted his players to meet him halfway.
The Blue Devils' first big test came in early January, after they had lost their ACC opener at Virginia by 17 points. "We played like it was our birthright to win," said Krzyzewski. "I hate that. So it was great that they killed us. It gave me a clear course of action."
Krzyzewski discovered that this group took to coaching. "They gave me more than I gave them," he said. "I could make adjustments, and they'd really listen."
None reacted better than Hurley. Last season the Duke staff found his gestures and facial expressions so petulant that they produced a videotape to shock him into reforming himself. With the help of Laettner, who constantly reminded Hurley of how important a point guard's composure is to the stability of the entire team, it worked. Superb throughout the tournament, Hurley was never more poised than for an instant midway through the second half Monday when Kansas suddenly threw its 1-3-1 trap at him. Within seconds he had lofted the most precise of lob passes, just off the rim, where Davis made emphatic work of it. "Last year at this time I wasn't crying," Hurley would say after Duke's triumph Monday. "I was just empty inside. I couldn't even cry because I had no emotion. To tell you the truth, I feel more like crying this year."
"He did what college kids are supposed to do," Krzyzewski said. "He learned from failure."