Before Saturday, Duke last met UNLV 25 years ago, before any player on Duke’s current roster was born.
Most of its freshman class was born about seven years after that game.
So, during the five-hour flight from North Carolina to Las Vegas, coach Mike Krzyzewski showed his club the 1991 Final Four semifinal matchup between those Blue Devils and the undefeated Runnin’ Rebels.
Duke upset UNLV 79-77 en route to Krzyzewski’s first national championship. It was a special, historic moment for him and the Duke program, but showing his team the tape of a 25-year old classic was about the only reminiscing Krzyzewski did before taking on the current Rebels Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Vegas.
“We actually set up the game … just for them to get the flavor of a high-level game,” Krzyzewski said, “and to let them know we’re going into a game where we’re playing against a very proud opponent that’s accomplished a lot. That’s why we watched it. My memories: I watched it because I started questioning why I saw certain things. ‘Holy crap, I got away with that? Holy mackerel, he did that?’ But that’s all I thought of it.
“I’m not a big rear-view mirror guy – except when I’m driving.”
The historic context was the only reason for Saturday’s selection, because today’s UNLV, picked to finish third in the Mountain West Conference’s preseason rankings, was no match for the Blue Devils. Duke won 94-45 behind Grayson Allen’s career night. The junior guard scored 34 points, including six 3-pointers, in the victory.
Sophomore Chase Jeter was back in the starting lineup for a unique homecoming game. The forward-center started the first four games of the season before hurting his foot during Duke’s Hall of Fame Tip-Off trip in late November.
Jeter was Nevada’s top recruit of 2015, coming out of Vegas’ Bishop Gorman High. His dad, Chris, played four seasons with UNLV and was on the high-profiled teams that met Duke in 1990 and 1991. UNLV beat Duke 103-73 for the 1990 NCAA championship.
I’m not sure anybody will ever get beaten by as much as we got beaten by that day. We could have got beaten by more; that’s how good we are.
Saturday marked just the fourth all-time meeting between the teams. A record 19,107 showed up for the arena’s first college basketball game; Krzyzewski coached the USA team there in July.
“The opportunity to play in front of my home crowd was great,” said Jeter, who made sure to stop by Mexican grill Cafe Rio, his favorite place to eat in Vegas, during the trip. “Being able to be home was very special, you know, I have a lot of family at the game. It’s great. One of the biggest games in the history of the game back in 1990 and 1991. To continue that legacy here is kind of a great opportunity.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan