Mike Krzyzewski was ready to pounce on a question he knew was coming. And he didn’t have to wait long, as it was the first one he was asked.
“I believe I read that Duke is 0-4 in the Pacific time zone,” the reporter’s question started. “How much have you thought about that and considered that entering this game?”
To cut to the heart of the Duke coach’s answer: “I really don’t think it makes a damn bit of difference what we’ve done on the West Coast before.”
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Out of the 116 NCAA tournament games Krzyzewski has coached, just four have been on the West Coast. And there isn’t any commonality to those four: his first NCAA tournament game in 1984 (an 80-78 loss to Washington in Pullman, Wash.); a 95-78 Final Four loss to Seton Hall in Seattle in 1989; a 69-65 loss to higher-seeded Kansas in Anaheim in 2003; and a surprising 93-77 Sweet 16 loss to Arizona as Kyrie Irving worked his way back for the tournament in 2011.
Four games over the span of four decades out of 116 total games is a rather small sample size. The Blue Devils have won more national titles (five), for instance, than they have played tournament games on the West Coast.
“I’ve never been one to look at what I do on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays or whatever,” Krzyzewski said. “Who we play now means a lot, and who we have to play at that time means a lot.”
With that line of thinking clearly taken off the table, No. 4 seed Duke departed Durham on Monday afternoon for its Thursday night tip against the West Regional’s No. 1 seed, Oregon. The Blue Devils arrived around 12:30 a.m. local time (3:30 a.m. EDT) and headed for their hotel, which is, let’s say, a change of pace from the corporate, Ritz Carlton-type outfit the Blue Devils typically frequent.
The NCAA handles hotel accommodations for teams during the tournament, with the top seed getting the top pick. So No. 1 Oregon is in the Hyatt Regency, and No. 4 Duke is in the family-friendly Majestic Garden Hotel across the street from Disneyland. The Majestic comes with a castle motif.
Freshman guard Brandon Ingram laughed, collected himself and paused for seven seconds when asked about their accommodations.
“I mean, it’s just a place to stay,” Ingram said. “It’s definitely different. Just going in you see a lot of kids – it’s very different. I didn’t have a problem with it.”
“Yeah, it is different,” said junior guard Matt Jones. “I like the fact that Disneyland is right across the street or whatever. But it’s different.”
Duke, the lowest seed in the regional, staying in a castle … dare we say Cinderella?
“We’re not a Cinderella team,” Jones said. “When you come to Duke, you come to win championships. We’re still defending our national championship.”
“We don’t have a Cinderella feel at all,” Ingram added. “We developed a toughness that we can battle with any team in this tournament.”
Duke as Cinderella is about as plausible as looking at four games over four decades and saying Duke can’t win on the West Coast. Oregon coach Dana Altman certainly isn’t buying into any line of thinking the deviates from the idea that Duke is Duke.
“Any time you get an opportunity to play someone that’s as well established as Duke, Coach K, it’s a great opportunity,” Altman said. “This is a point in our time that we need to play well. We need to play well on the national stage against someone that is very good and has proven themselves.”
And that reputation carries across the country, all the way to the grounds of the Majestic Garden.