A storied program on the rebound is all that's in the way of Duke's fifth consecutive trip to the Final Four.
Kentucky, the school with the most NCAA tournament appearances, the second most wins and a recent probation to overcome, is trying to stop the defending champions from advancing to the last weekend for the sixth time in seven years."I want this more than any before," said Duke forward Brian Davis, a senior one game away from the college hoops version of a royal flush. "We are good because we take it one game at a time. It doesn't matter who we play, we feel we are the best team in the tournament. All we have to do is put forth the effort and enthusiasm and we will be the best team. It's exciting.
"I want to be part of history. If me and Christian do this again there will be only three guys in history to have done it."
Last year, Greg Koubek became the first player to go to four Final Fours. A victory Saturday night could do it for Davis and Christian Laettner.
Duke (31-2), trying to become the first repeat champion since UCLA in 1973, was No. 1 this season from start to close of the regular season.
Kentucky (29-6) was in the top 15 all season and entered the tournament as No. 6, quite an accomplishment for a program which missed the last two NCAA tournaments because of probation.
Wildcat coach Rick Pitino took Providence to the Final Four in 1987, so he knows how tough it is to get there even once.
"I certainly marvel at all the great feats of teams, Red Auerbach and the Celtics, John Wooden and UCLA," Pitino said. "But today, with all the pressure of this NCAA tournament, the media coverage, the regions being mixed up and matched, today what Duke is accomplishing, I marvel at the same way I do Auerbach and Wooden."
Pitino's praise didn't dampen his enthusiasm for his team.
"UNLV last year stood out as the dominant team and Duke is the same way this year," Pitino said. "You have to remember other teams which no one thought could lose. North Carolina State beat Houston in 1983 and then Villanova beat Georgetown, Kansas beat Oklahoma and Duke-UNLV. That's what makes this tournament so great. It's one game, not a series. In one game, the better team doesn't always win."
Duke has shown it can win games at any tempo, inside or out, and with any starter as the star that day.
Kentucky has relied on its inside-out style for success and on its vaunted press to create turnovers and cause fatigue.
"The Duke team is at their best on the break and I don't think we can run up and down with them in an open floor transition game," Pitino said. "Our press has to be a factor, not so much to set the tempo, but to force turnovers."