Four weeks ago, Duke defeated Virginia by 13 points in Durham, as Virginia center Olden Polynice sat out the game on his own accord, and the college basketball world accepted the result rather matter-of-factly.
Today, in University Hall, where Virginia had lost only five times in its previous 69 games, the second-ranked, undefeated Blue Devils won again. But this 63-58 Atlantic Coast Conference victory will make the rest of the basketball world take note.
It established beyond any reasonable doubt the Blue Devils' credibility, after nine games in which they played at the fast pace they wanted (81 points per game average) and won by almost 20 points per game.
Today, Duke trailed at halftime for the first time this season. The Blue Devils responded with a suffocating man-to-man defense, led by guards Johnny Dawkins and Tommy Amaker, to take control with a 14-1 surge in the opening 5 1/2 minutes of the second half.
Today, Polynice played, but with ample double teaming, the Blue Devils held Virginia's leading scorer to one basket and four points in 34 minutes. He also missed several key free throws when the outcome was still in doubt.
And, today, when Virginia (7-5, 0-2 in the ACC) succeeded in its plan to shut down Dawkins (13 points) and Mark Alarie (10), Duke's two leading scorers, David Henderson scored a season-high 21 points.
Duke (10-0, 2-0) made almost 71 percent of its second-half shots (17 of 24) against a defense Virginia Coach Terry Holland thought was good enough to win the game.
"It was a heck of a game," said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski. "That was our best 20 minutes of basketball in the second half . . . We beat a good team today which was playing well."
Defensively, Holland couldn't have agreed more. But, offensively, except for reserve freshman forward Mel Kennedy scoring a career-high 23 points, Holland couldn't have agreed less.
"It was our offense that kept us from winning the game," he said. "We are to the point at which we can run our offense and get the shots we want against most people. But Duke's an exceptional defensive team. They took us out of the offense. Our guys put the ball on the floor and tried to go on their man. We're not going to win in a one-on-one situation."
Holland benched Tom Sheehey for doing this, playing the sophomore forward just 16 minutes. Guard Tim Mullen played only 21 minutes. Holland wanted him to play the entire 40.
Mullen's size, strength and experience made him Virginia's only capable ball-handling guard against Duke's physical pressure defense. But he was in constant foul trouble. He fouled out with 11:04 to play. The Cavaliers outscored Duke by 11 points (30-19) with Mullen in the game; they were outscored by 16 (44-28) when he was out.
"Losing Mullen was a big blow to them and fortunate for us," Krzyzewski said. "He's so big he can throw over our traps, and he sees the court very well. Amaker was putting heavy pressure on him, but he handled it well."
Mullen's replacement was John Johnson, a 5-foot-11 freshman, who did not have the height, strength or experience to overcome Duke's perimeter pressure. Duke made its two biggest runs (7-0 in the first half and 14-1 in the second) with Johnson playing in place of Mullen. The Cavaliers had more success with Anthony Solomon, a sophomore who won a scholarship last season as a walk-on.
But Duke accomplished its defensive goals at the start of the second half with Mullen still in the game. For the first eight possessions, Virginia's only point came on a free throw by Polynice. From trailing, 32-28, at halftime, Duke had a 42-33 lead after that 5 1/2-minute period.
Mullen left the game with his fourth foul (on a charge while passing off on a drive to the basket) with 17:30 left. Dan Meagher's short turnaround jumper, the first basket by Duke's starting front line, had just given the Blue Devils a 34-33 lead.
Meagher, who played 32 minutes despite an ailing back, then hit a jumper from the top of the key. Virginia had three straight turnovers, as it tried to force the ball inside.
Henderson provided the first two, coming off his man to steal passes intended for Polynice. The perimeter pressure of Amaker set them up, and Duke turned the steals into fast-break baskets by Amaker and Meagher. Then Jim Miller walked, and Alarie answered with a short jumper for a 42-33 lead with 14:41 to play.
Mullen came in, and Virginia rallied within 44-41 with 11:14 to play. Mullen fouled out 10 seconds later. Virginia, which began in a tough man-to-man defense, now was forced to play zone. It appeared that Mullen stuck out his leg and made some contact with Henderson.
"I might have stuck my leg out," Mullen said. "It was almost like he (the referee) anticipated it, and it didn't happen. They had to call it . . . It was like I should have gone all the way there and made him stop or not had anything to do with it."
Yet, Virginia still had a chance to win as Solomon performed well against Duke's perimeter pressure. But, two things happened to give Duke firm control.
First, in its next six possessions, Virginia missed a possible six points from the foul line, including a two-shot misfire by Polynice and the front ends of one-and-ones by Polynice and Solomon.
While the Cavaliers were missing the free throws, Holland was employing a diamond-and-one defense against Dawkins, with Kennedy playing him man for man. But the gimmick defense backfired when Alarie hit a 16-footer from the right side and then Henderson scored eight of Duke's next 10 points.