Were we to believe all we read in the papers, we would lock our women and children indoors any time the University of Kentucky basketball players are out of their cages. They don't laugh, they don't smile, they just stuff you in the hoop and move on. Bigfoot in sneakers.

But Duke. Ah, Cinderella. Touched by destiny, the Blue Devils are the darlings of the public prints here. They are sending a forward nicknamed Tinker Bell to save us all from the Bluegrass savages. We are told the Dukies are abrim with joy while Kentucky broods. Get the silver slipper ready.

It's amazing, the stuff you read. After a half-hour press conference two days ago, some knights of the keyboard decided Kentucky's team was an affront to all that is pure and innocent.

That's because the Kentucky guys said the national championship game was so important to them that a defeat would make their season a failure.

In contrast, Duke made it plain that even being runner-up would be a find and wonderful thing.

Both viewpoints seem reasonable.

Duke never dreamed such a thing could happen. Over the last four seasons, it had lost 27 straight Atlantic Coast Conference road games. A year ago, it won only 14 games and lost 13. The Devils would have been mad with excitement had they won 20 games this season.

An NACC tournament championship? Hah. An East Regional title? You kidding. The Devils over Notre Dame in the NCAA final four? Too much. But it all happened, and Duke is properly giddy.

So Gene Banks, the freshman forward, says, I'd like to run for governor of Pennsylvania someday, but I wonder if people would vote for somebody called Tinker Bell." Then he hugs somebody else, working fervently on the all-time NCAA hugging record. You ain't nobody 'till Tinker Bell hugs you.

Meanwhile, we have Kentucky, the joyless antomatons. Some players came to a press conference. They were described in a local paper as resembling "a board of directors who had just lost a billion-dollar contract." For crying out loud, nobody was hugging anybody. What kind of basketball team is this, anyway?

It's an old team. Four of the top six players are seniors. For them, this is their second national championship game. As freshmen, they were on the losing side against UCLA. The next year they won the National Invitation Tournament. Last season they made it to the final of the NCAA's East Region.

With four starters back from last year, with the addition of a superb guard, Kentucky has been ranked No. 1 most of this season. Four times Kentucky has won national championships and the people in that state judge their teams by one standard: can they win it all?

Success, then, is both Kentucky's blessing and its curse.

Without the last five decades of winning, Kentucky wouldn't have a 23,000-seat arena, a $750,000 mansion-dorm for its players and an 80-station radio network that covers most of the nation. It wouldn't have people who care and want to help. Kentucky, then, would be, say, a Duke, occasionally at center stage and happy for it.

Instead, success brings the inevitable demand for repeated success. So when Kentucky is within one game of its first national championship in 20 years, the players find no reason for hugging anybody - just yet.

And some sportswriters see it as obscene. They say college athletics is fun and games, and Kentucky isn't having any fun. Bullfeathers. The fun for Kentucky begins, as it did for Lombardi's Packers and Stengel's Yankees and, yes, Wooden's UCLA teams, when the job is done.

"It's been a season without celebration for us," said Joe B. Hall, the Kentucky coach. "So much has been expected of us that there have been few rewards for this ball club. It's been a strange season. By being ranked No. 1 from the first, it eliminated almost any chance for success except for one accomplishment. We've got a lot of stored-up celebrating to do."