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Duke Blue Devils' Experience Provides Edge

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DURHAM, N.C. (AP) _ How many points is experience worth in the NCAA tournament?

Duke hopes it's enough to get the program to another Final Four.

The five starters for the top-seeded and defending national champion Blue Devils (31-3) have played a combined 41 postseason games heading into Duke's South Regional semifinal against Indiana on Thursday night.

While Indiana is another one of college basketball's storied programs, the Hoosiers (22-11) haven't been this far in the NCAAs in eight years.

And the two other teams in the bracket are even less experienced. Pittsburgh's last round of 16 game was in 1974, while Kent State never made it before.

``Experience has something to do with winning,'' Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Monday. ``We've been in tough situations where if you don't do well on that exchange down the court, that may be it. And our kids have pretty much produced under pressure for us. That's worth a lot.''

Duke's recent NCAA numbers are impressive.

The Blue Devils are 18-3 in their last 21 NCAA games and are riding an eight-game winning streak, while Krzyzewski is 58-14 _ the best winning percentage among active coaches and second only to John Wooden of UCLA.

Krzyzewski's leadership is not lost on his players heading to Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., this week.

``He knows how to prepare, how to read his team, when to keep them loose and when to tighten everything up,'' Mike Dunleavy said. ``To have a leader like that to take you through something like the NCAA tournament _ I'm not going to say it makes it easy _ but it certainly helps.''

Duke's experience goes beyond Coach K and the players on the floor. After five straight trips to the round of 16, Krzyzewski's support staff runs offcourt issues like a well-oiled machine.

``This is a time of distractions,'' Krzyzewski said. ``They are not necessarily meant to be bad distractions, but people are excited about the tournament.

``More people want to see it, more people want to talk to you, more people want tickets, more people want things. If you already have the people around you that understand how to satisfy the needs of the people who want and take care of them properly, then you are well ahead of the game. If we get beat, it won't be because I've been distracted. Our people have been through this. That type of experience is invaluable.''

So is Krzyzewski's ability to keep his team's mind on the present. It can become easy for a defending national champion to start looking toward the Final Four a week or two early.

``I'm from Augusta Boulevard in Chicago and I respect other people from Augusta Boulevard,'' said Krzyzewski, drawing a parallel to his childhood upbringing. ``I know that if you don't, then people beat you and they go on.

``If you think you're better or you deserve to be some place _ well that other team deserves that, too. Our kids don't work any harder than Indiana's kids. They can beat us and that's the way I approach every game. If you get ahead of yourself, you're going to get whipped.''

All of Duke's experiences haven't been good in the NCAA tournament. In 2000, freshmen Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer and Dunleavy were satisfied after a tough win over Kansas in the second round. Duke was then bounced from the tourney by Florida in the regional semifinals.

``Me, Carlos and Jason were all kind of playing in the dark,'' Dunleavy said. ``We were just trying to advance, and if we did, we had no idea where we were going next. I almost felt like after we won that Kansas game, it was a great accomplishment. This year, we were more relieved to beat Notre Dame, but it was on to the next thing.''

While Krzyzewski likes his team's postseason experience, he called this year's tournament crazy and warned of more upsets.

``It's not about rankings and RPIs and all of that,'' Krzyzewski said. ``A lot of it is about what is that team you're playing accepting right now and what are you accepting. Are you looking ahead? Are you just focused on what you're doing? In this tournament, I see more teams not accepting losing.''


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