NASSAU, Bahamas -- One of the greatest games in college basketball history featured two of the sport's most legendary coaches.
Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski has had multiple talks with Rick Pitino about that magical night in 1992, when his Blue Devils advanced to the Final Four by defeating Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats on Christian Laettner’s turnaround jumper at the buzzer.
Krzyzewski has walked away from each conversation with the same feeling.
“One of the things that I really respect about Rick is that we both understand that the game is bigger than us,” Krzyzewski said. “Sometimes the basketball gods put you in a moment. We were in a moment in ’92.
“As long as you realize that it’s not your moment -- it’s the game’s moment -- they might put you in another one.”
Twenty years later, that appears to be the case.
In what will easily be the marquee matchup of the college basketball season thus far, Krzyzewski and Pitino, who now coaches at Louisville, will square off in championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament at 9:30 p.m. ET Saturday in the Bahamas.
The showdown between No. 5 Duke and Pitino’s second-ranked Louisville squad will mark the first meeting between the two coaches since that memorable night in the spring of 1992.
“I hope,” Pitino said, “that it’s as good of a game.”
That may be wishful thinking, but both teams looked in postseason form Friday. Duke advanced to the title round by staving off a pesky Virginia Commonwealth squad 67-58. Louisville was dominant in an 84-61 victory over a Missouri team that continues to play without suspended guard Michael Dixon.
Luke Hancock scored 19 points for the Cardinals and Russ Smith added 18, but the most impressive thing about Louisville, as always, was its effort on the defensive end. Pitino’s squad forced 23 Missouri turnovers that resulted in 31 points.
Eight of the turnovers were committed by Tigers standout Phil Pressey, the SEC Preseason Player of the Year who has been hailed as one of the top point guards in the nation. Pressey’s counterpart, Louisville’s Peyton Siva, had 13 points, 6 assists and only 1 turnover.
“Definitely,” Siva said when asked if he was fired up to play against Pressey. “He’s a great point guard, but every player should feel like they’re the best. I feel like I’m the best guy for my team.”
Pitino said he was pleased to see his team play with more of an edge than it did in Thursday’s tourney opener against Northern Iowa. The Cardinals, who return almost every key piece of last season’s Final Four squad, won that game 51-46.
“Until tonight, the No. 2 ranking has been a hindrance for us,” Pitino said. “This team spent the entire year last year with no one believing. They were the underdog. Suddenly, you’re moving to No. 2.
“I told them, ‘Look, you’ve got to have a little bit of a swagger to play this game. There are going to be a lot of ugly games and there’s going to be a lot of pretty games. You’ve got to learn how to play all ways.’”
Pitino knows the Cardinals will need to be at their best to topple undefeated Duke and future NBA lottery pick Mason Plumlee. The forward had 17 points and 10 rebounds in Friday’s victory over VCU while Seth Curry added 15.
After the game, Krzyzewski was beaming about how well the Blue Devils handled VCU’s trademark, full-court pressure. Duke committed just eight turnovers against a Rams squad that forced 23 miscues against Memphis one night earlier.
With virtually no time to prepare for VCU’s unorthodox style, Krzyzewski had the Blue Devils’ student managers “tape off” a full basketball court in a ballroom at the Atlantis Resort on Friday morning.
“We walked through a scouting report of how they were going to defend them,” Krzyzewski said. “The key to the game was not letting them score off of turnovers. Our kids did a masterful job of handling their pressure. There were no possessions off.
“From all the games I’ve seen, that was the best game played this season.”
Saturday’s title game, though, certainly has the potential to top it. Not just because of the players, but because of the coaches stalking the sideline. Pitino and Krzyzewski each spent a portion of their news conferences Friday showering praise on one another.
“He’s one of the greatest coaches of all time,” Krzyzewski said of Pitino. “If he wouldn’t have gone to the pros he’d probably have more wins than me.”
Of Krzyzewski, Pitino said: “My hero has always been John Wooden, because I thought he was the greatest teacher in any sport. Mike is the modern-day version of John Wooden. Everything about his humility and his teaching ability and what he accomplishes is just like Coach Wooden.”
No matter who wins Saturday, the matchup will provide a fitting end to one of the greatest non-conference tournaments in recent memory. Along with undefeated Duke and Louisville, the Battle 4 Atlantis field features No. 13 Missouri and No. 19 Memphis along with NCAA tournament-caliber teams Minnesota, Stanford, Northern Iowa and VCU.
“We consider it a real treat to be playing in the championship,” Pitino said.
“They’re on a roll and we’re on a roll,” the point guard said. “Tomorrow we come head to head.”