Friday night it was all about Yao and Shaq.
Yesterday it was about Mike Krzyzewski and Gary Williams.
In the NBA, it's about the players.
In college ball, it's about the coaches.
And Krzyzewski and Williams going against each other is as good as it gets.
The honors, for now, go to Williams. Without a doubt, he got his Terrapins ready to play the nation's No. 1 team, and its last unbeaten one at 12-0.
What the Terrapins did to Duke at Comcast Center, among other things, was remind people that despite having lost several of their standout players from a year ago, they are the NCAA's defending champions -- and that calls for a little respect. It's true that Maryland lost a great deal in Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter, Chris Wilcox and Byron Mouton. The Terrapins can't be expected, realistically, to repeat as national champions. But yesterday they showed they are better than many have thought, that certainly they still are an outstanding team when they play as hard as they can. They earned some respect.
Williams arrived emphatically on the national coaching stage with the NCAA championship last season and a Final Four appearance the year before that. Yesterday he proved he belongs there -- and isn't leaving any time soon. Williams-Krzyzewski has become the marquee college basketball coaching matchup.
At Cole Field House and Comcast Center, last season and this, Maryland handled Duke comfortably, almost identically: 87-73 a year ago, 87-72 yesterday. The new arena, with every one of its 17,950 seats taken, sounded almost as loud as Cole used to; and by allowing the students to sit at courtside, Maryland has provided its team an excellent home-court advantage. Yesterday's was a high-energy crowd for a high-energy game, and the surprise was how much more energy -- energy, desire, tenacity -- Maryland had in the second half than Duke.
The Terrapins exposed Duke as undermanned in its front court. Shockingly so. Duke has had some premier players in recent seasons: Shane Battier, Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy. They had Carlos Boozer, a solid presence underneath the boards. But this Duke team yesterday appeared to have only one top-caliber player, one only, he being J.J. Redick. And he is just a freshman who got into foul trouble against the Terrapins. Dahntay Jones? I don't think so, not quite, despite his 26 points yesterday and his improved jump shot. Duke had nothing going for it in the second half except for Jones's hot individual play, but Jones and Redick at their best aren't enough to carry this Duke team where Krzyzewski wants it to go.
"I just want to be number one with my wife, my daughters and my dogs," he said afterward.
Does he expect us to believe that he doesn't want to win another national championship in the worst way?
If the Blue Devils manage to, it will have taken his best coaching job. This is not to say they will lose a game at crazy Cameron Indoor Stadium this season.
Cameron as a home court may be worth 12 points. But this edition of the Blue Devils did not appear capable at least on this one day of surpassing last season's round-of-16 team.
They really hadn't been tested the way they were yesterday. This was only the second game they had played on an opponent's court all season. It promised to be their most difficult game of the regular season -- and it probably will stand up as such.
Georgetown played them surprisingly tough at Cameron, a hint of things to come. "This is kind of a work in progress here," Krzyzewski said.
The same can be said for Maryland. Yet Williams mixed his veterans and young players well, so well that they looked as if they had learned their lessons faster than the Blue Devils. Maryland was supposed to have more trouble filling the holes in its lineup than Duke, but it didn't look that way. Maryland has a tougher group under the boards. "I thought our defense was outstanding in the second half," Williams said. He could not have summed up the lopsided last 20 minutes any better.
Drew Nicholas, who led Maryland with 24 points, was part of that defense, helping to stop Redick, who scored 34 points Wednesday against Virginia. "Our effort was okay in the first half. It was pretty good. It wasn't great," said Redick, the blue-chipper from Roanoke, who was held to 13 points in 24 minutes before fouling out. "The second half just wasn't good enough. They cut off my looks. One, Nicholas just blocked my shot."
Krzyzewski coaxed the Devils into a six-point halftime lead by inserting Redick, despite two fouls, for the last minute and a half. He delivered with a quick five points, including a three-pointer at the buzzer. Oh, yes, as they dashed from the court, the Blue Devils looked ready to ignite in the second half.
Hadn't Duke won in 14 of its last 17 trips to College Park? "We should have come out so fired up in the second half," Krzyzewski said.
Except that it was the Terrapins who stormed the court after the break. They surprised Duke with a 9-0 opening burst -- and then pulled away, so far into the comfortable distance that with 10 minutes to play -- and, yes, given Duke's history of comebacks -- Krzyzewski had the look of a coach who knew the outcome well in advance.
Someone asked him after the game how he liked the new arena.
"Beautiful," he said.
That was it.
It was pretty obvious, the surroundings were not to his liking. But that's life in the ACC, where teams currently are 12-2 at home in conference play. Going on the road is never easy in the ACC, as Maryland learned again as recently as Wednesday night at Wake Forest, and Duke found out yesterday.
"We're far from going on Broadway, let's put it that way," Krzyzewski said.
More to the point, however, they're not ready -- not yet, anyway -- for New Orleans, site of the Final Four.