Utah: Facing Duke is a big deal, but Utes aren't star-struck
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak told a story about running into Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski during a recruiting trip in Las Vegas last summer. The two were at a 7-11 store when Krystkowiak proclaimed, ''There's the real Coach K'' and gave him a high-five.
The love wasn't exactly returned.
''I don't remember him laughing or stopping,'' Krystkowiak said. ''I thought it was funny, but not sure he noticed who I was.''
That moment could be a metaphor for the Sweet 16 matchup between the Utes and Blue Devils in Houston on Friday. Duke enters as the storied program with the No. 1 seed, the winningest coach in men's Division I history and tied with Kentucky with nine McDonald's All-Americans on the roster.
Utah won six total games in 2011-12 and hasn't been to the Sweet 16 since 2004-05.
The Utes aren't scared to say playing Duke is a really, really big deal, but insist they won't be star-struck.
''I always wanted to play against Duke or North Carolina, Kentucky - a team like that,'' All-Pac-12 guard Delon Wright said. ''You just see them playing when you're growing up. It's a team you always watch on TV. You know pretty much every player that goes there year in and year out.
''Honestly, I've played against players better than them. It's a mind game. Just don't think about them being a storied program or anything. They're regular players like us. They just happen to go to a big name school.''
Krystkowiak used the phrase ''one of the best'' four times in a row to describe different facets of the Blue Devils.
Center Dallin Bachynski said his mom is a huge Duke and Krzyzewski fan. Freshman center Jakob Poeltl is excited to face Player of the Year candidate Jahlil Okafor. Guard Brandon Taylor reminisced about Shane Battier and other Duke players that moved onto the NBA.
''If you go to some basketball kid's house, there's a decent chance they'll know Jahlil Okafor,'' Bachynski said. ''Dallin Bachynski, I don't know if it's a household name. Being able to test myself against a player like that and see how I do, that's a great experience for me.''
Praise aside, the Utes don't seem intimidated. The program already reached unexpected heights this season, including being ranked in the Top 10 much of the year and winning two tournament games. They've played big programs in Kansas, UCLA and Arizona this season. So, this isn't completely uncharted territory.
''There's no need to sugarcoat anything, it's an awesome opportunity,'' Taylor said. ''It's special. You don't get to play Duke every day. ... Besides that, they're another obstacle in front of our goal.
''Duke is a solid team all the way around. We know that. But we're a solid team all the way around, too. At the end of the day whether you're a McDonald's All-American, whether you're a Top 40 recruiting class. Four star, three star, two star - I was a no star. That really doesn't matter. At this level, all that goes out the window,'' he added.
Krystkowiak said it's not yet time to ''break out the scrapbook'' and think about all they've achieved. They don't plan on reaching the finish line Friday and the preparation has led to little sleep for the fourth-year coach.
He's quick to personally accept the underdog label, saying ''(Krzyzewski is) the man. He's got 1,000 wins. I've got 100.''
But Krystkowiak believes his team isn't just happy to be in the Sweet 16.
''I can only hope our guys aren't satisfied or we'll get embarrassed on Friday night,'' Krystkowiak said. ''I'm not sure we know everything that comes with it. It's elite athletes. It's the big-time stuff.
''We'll find out Friday if we're ready. I know we're juiced and excited about it. A heck of lot of it is going out and making some plays in that environment.''