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Duke Shoots for Unbeaten ACC Record at Archrival North Carolina

Posted February 24, 1999

— It's hard to believe, but Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he's worried about his team's intensity heading into its regular-season finale with archrival North Carolina on Saturday night.

The top-ranked Blue Devils (28-1, 15-0) will shoot for an unprecedented 16-0 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and a school-record 24th consecutive victory against the No. 14 Tar Heels (22-7, 10-5) at the Smith Center, where they haven't won since 1991.

But Krzyzewski said making history might not be enough to spark his team, which is coming off a 96-64 win over DePaul on Wednesday. The Blue Devils locked up their sixth ACC regular-season title of the decade on Feb. 17 and have virtually secured a top seed in the NCAA tournament.

``This week is a very challenging week for us,'' Krzyzewski said. ``I don't want to get into making excuses but we'll see if we can play at that high, emotional level in this situation.

``There's a tendency to look ahead and we're trying to make sure that doesn't happen.''

His players don't think it will.

Shane Battier said the 24-point loss to the Tar Heels last season - the Blue Devils' worst defeat in the series since 1983 - was almost enough motivation by itself.

``It's added incentive,'' Battier said. ``Our season isn't defined by numbers. But combined with the humiliation we suffered there last year and being on the verge of this (16-0) record, it would be very special to win there.''

Krzyzewski said going undefeated through the conference regular season was never a team goal and still isn't.

``For me to bring that up now, the kids will think I'm a phony,'' said Krzyzewski. ``I've always felt like, `Let's just play really hard, let's try to win the conference and let's try to win the national championship.' Those are our goals.''

Elton Brand, who scored 12 points in Duke's 89-77 win over North Carolina on Jan. 27, has some personal incentive for Saturday's game. Brand broke a bone in his left foot last December and missed North Carolina's 97-73 rout of then-No. 1 Duke at the Smith Center last Feb. 5.

``That's the only arena in the ACC I haven't played in,'' said Brand, the league's second-leading scorer at 17.6 points per game. ``It's definitely motivation, of course beating Carolina, but also being 16-0 in the league.''

Motivation won't be any problem for the Tar Heels, who have nine all-time wins over top-ranked teams - a tie with Notre Dame for the most in NCAA history.

``We definitely don't want them to make history on us,'' said North Carolina point guard Ed Cota.

``This game will just add to the Duke-Carolina rivalry,'' said senior Ademola Okulaja, who will play in his 135th consecutive game in a North Carolina uniform. ``You have rivalries all over the place but none of them are as intense as Carolina and Duke.''

The Tar Heels have committed at least 16 turnovers in each of their last three games, all narrow victories. That's not likely to be enough to beat Duke, which leads the ACC in turnover margin, forcing nearly five more per game than its opponents.

``All wins are great but we've done some things lately we shouldn't have done in these three games,'' said North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge. ``We're a good team, not a great team. But we about have to play a perfect game to beat them.''

The Tar Heels will have an extra ball-handler on the floor in this game. Jason Capel is expected to play after missing the first meeting with mononucleosis. Capel is third on the team with 48 assists.

The Tar Heels are 10-3 against Duke at the Smith Center, but Guthridge said the home court doesn't give North Carolina any advantage this time.

``A lot of people are saying, `Well, you played well over there and now you've got them at your place,' but they've proven they're an excellent road team,'' Guthridge said. ``Really good teams like that are sometimes better on the road than they are at home. And Duke certainly doesn't have to rely on their fans to get them going.''


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