NEW ORLEANS — One of Hubert Davis’ biggest concerns as his Tar Heels prepared to face Duke in the Final Four was the “noise” and distractions from having the archrivals meet in such an important game.
“We don’t get focused on that,” Davis said of the outside attention the game is drawing. “I don’t think anything can be as crazy as the game leading up the game over in Cameron. As I said before, we keep our eyes straight ahead and we ignore all the noise. And I consistently tell them to turn down or turn off the noise of the phone, family and friends. If you do that — just focus on our preparation and our practice and if you do that, then our play will be good. And that’s what we’re going to do this upcoming week.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, on the other hand, isn’t as concerned about the noise.
“When you say ‘noise,’ I don’t think they’ve ever — I don’t think a youngster looks at noise as pressure,” Coach K said. “They look at it as noise. They like a lot of noise. That’s why they like mentions and comments. Their pool is not very deep, but it’s very expanded.”
Duke is college basketball’s Team Noise. No program garners more attention, either by loving fans or bitter hate watchers. Twice a year, Duke-Carolina is the game college basketball stops what it’s doing to watch. This time, the stage may be far bigger, but the conditions won’t be all that different.
So Krzyzewski doesn’t want his team to block everything out — just pick and choose which noises get through.
“We say, listen to one voice,” he said. “Like I talked to them earlier this week. I said you only have so much room, mind space, where you can get in-depth about anything. You can put a lot in your mind but not necessarily deep. So, can you not put in your mind things you will not get deep about and get really deep about what we’re doing?”
Before leaving for New Orleans, Coach K said he didn’t plan to use Duke’s loss to North Carolina in the regular season home finale as a motivating tool for his team going into the rematch.
“I haven’t looked at it as us versus North Carolina,” he said. “I’ve looked at it as, ‘We’re playing in the Final Four.’ So the history of (the rivalry) I have not paid attention to.”
Clearly, his voice is one that has gotten through to his players.
“This is a championship game,” guard Jeremy Roach said. “We’re not looking at it as a rivalry or whatever everybody else is saying. It’s a championship game. It’s another opponent in our way. UNC is a hell of a team. We know they’re going to play their ass off for all 40 minutes. So, I mean, it’s a championship game. That’s all he’s harping on, it’s a championship game.”
“You can’t really get too caught up in it’s a rivalry,” freshman Trevor Keels agreed. “If you look at it like that, you’re in trouble. You look at it as a championship game. You want to win Saturday and then you want to Monday, be the last team standing. …. No matter who they put in front of us, it’s in our way, win a championship.”
In the biggest game ever between basketball’s two biggest rivals, Krzyzewski has his team keeping their eyes up high, on what’s at stake for the winner rather than on any rivalry drama.
Will it work? Is it possible to keep all the UNC-Duke chatter out and listen to one voice?
Everyone in dark blue is saying the right thing. On Saturday, we’ll see if it worked.
“I think it’s just another game for us,” said Wendell Moore Jr. “We’re not looking at either revenge, what happened last time. We’re not looking at anything else.”