Local News

Duke Shoots for ACC Mark Against Tar Heels

Posted February 25, 1999 6:00 a.m. EST

— Duke never needs additional motivation when playing North Carolina - but there it is.

The Blue Devils, in one of college basketball's great rivalries, on Saturday can become the first team to go 16-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play.

``This week is a very challenging week for us,'' coach Mike 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.

The No. 1 Blue Devils (28-1, 15-0) will also be going for a school-record 24th consecutive victory when they face the No. 14 Tar Heels (22-7, 10-5) at the Smith Center, where they haven't won since 1991.

The Blue Devils clinched their sixth ACC regular-season title of the decade on Feb. 17 and have virtually secured a top seed in the NCAA tournament.

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

His players don't think that will happen.

Shane Battier, who is doubtful for Saturday's game with an ankle sprain, said the 24-point loss to the Tar Heels last season - the Blue Devils' worst defeat in the series since 1983 - is enough motivation.

``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 record, it would be very special to win there.''

Seven ACC teams (North Carolina three times, North Carolina State twice and South Carolina and Duke once) have gone unbeaten through the ACC regular season, but none won 16 games. Krzyzewski insists he isn't worried about the distinction.

``For me to bring that up now, the kids will think I'm a phony,'' Krzyzewski said. ``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 his left foot last December and missed the 97-73 rout 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 wins over top-ranked teams, tied 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. Duke 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,'' North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge said. ``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 ballhandler in Jason Capel. He is expected to play after missing the first game with mononucleosis.

The Tar Heels are 10-3 against Duke at 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.''