DeCock

West Coast has not been kind to Duke

Coach Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils teams have yet to win a game on the opposite side of the United States, going 0-3 in contests entering Thursday night's matchup against the Arizona Wildcats.

Staff WriterMarch 25, 2011 

— In an effort to fend off any potential jet lag, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told his basketball players to stay up late Monday, before they left Durham for the West Coast.

Given the struggles of eastern-based No. 1 seeds to survive the West Regional and Duke's NCAA tournament history in the Pacific Time Zone, it was probably worth trying just about anything in preparation for Thursday's late regional semifinal against Arizona.

Since the adoption of the "pod" system in 2002, teams from the eastern half of the country given No. 1 seeds in the West Regional haven't had a lot of luck. Only two of those five teams made it to the Final Four.

Syracuse (2010), Kansas (2007) and Memphis (2006) all failed to advance from regionals in Salt Lake City, Utah, San Jose, Calif., and Oakland, Calif., respectively. Connecticut, in 2009 via Glendale, Ariz., and Louisville, in 2005 via Albuquerque, N.M., survived.

Of Krzyzewski's 11 Final Four teams, the farthest west any of them had to go in the first two weekends was Houston, last year. Going into Thursday, he was yet to win an NCAA tournament game on Pacific time, going 0-3.

The last time Duke was sent this far west, the Blue Devils lost at this point, on this floor. In 2003, after wins over Colorado State and Central Michigan in Salt Lake City, the third-seeded Blue Devils lost by four to second-seeded Kansas in a game that tipped off even later than this one.

(That Roy Williams-coached Kansas team would beat top-seeded Arizona to advance to the Final Four in New Orleans, where the Jayhawks lost to Syracuse in the title game.)

The Blue Devils spent some time at No. 1 in the polls that year, won the ACC tournament after missing out on the regular-season title, and took two of three games from North Carolina. Some of that may sound familiar.

But that 2003 team, which started a sophomore and two freshmen and had only one player - Chris Duhon - left from the 2001 national champions, wasn't nearly as experienced as the one playing in Anaheim on Thursday.

As it turns out, by playing at 6:45 p.m. local time, Duke avoided the dreaded early start on the West Coast. The game tips at a normal game time locally, and the Blue Devils played plenty of 9 p.m. games and even tipped off after 10 p.m. against Kansas State earlier this season.

So whichever game-day routine they chose - the 7 p.m. standard or the 9 p.m. late - it wasn't going to require much modification. It was easier, of course, for San Diego State and Arizona, just like the travel is, but it could be worse.

Home-court advantage is a different issue. While Duke and Connecticut both have national fan bases, it's nothing compared to the short drive or flight for the local fan bases of San Diego State and Arizona. The Aztecs in particular have been steadily building a following just down I-5, and this is their fans' first chance to show it.

"We don't have to fly three hours and three time zones to play a game," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. "We are going to have a lot of fans here. How much that will help us win games, I don't know. It did at home."

Lute Olson, the former Arizona coach, once complained that Duke would only play a neutral-site game against Arizona at the Meadowlands. He refused to play the Blue Devils again until they agreed to a neutral site out west. He suggested Anaheim. Thursday, he belatedly got his way.

luke.decock@newsobserver.com, twitter.com/LukeDeCock or 919-829-8947

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