Coach K Previews Saturday’s Game at North Carolina

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Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski met the media Thursday in advance of Saturday’s game at North Carolina — the 256th all-time meeting and the 96th in the Coach K era. The game is a battle for first place in the ACC as the No. 9 Blue Devils enter in sole possession of first place at 8-2, with the Tar Heels a half game back.

Selected quotes from Coach K’s media session are included below:

HEAD COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI QUOTES

On the team’s improved defense over the past four games:
“I think we’re in better condition. That’s the first thing. The last couple games, we’re rebounding defensively, which we lost sight of for a few games. We were getting killed on the boards, giving up a lot of offensive boards although our initial defense was good, so just completing the defensive exchange. We haven’t put people on the line as much, giving open looks and free throws. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that. Against North Carolina, you’ve got to do both of those things.”

On if the team’s younger players appreciate what it will be like playing in front of a crowd at the Smith Center:
“They’ll want to have people in the arena. Like most players, our guys, they love playing in front of big crowds. At home or away, it’s exciting. They’ll have over 20 thousand people there and the atmosphere will be great. I just think the atmospheres in both places lends itself to having really top-notch performances by both teams. That’s one of the reasons these games have always turned out to be really good games. We’re looking forward to it. We’d rather play in front of a full arena than an empty arena.”

On if the team has an area it needs to grow in defensively:
“We need to talk more. That took a hit during the stoppage, just the ability to talk to one another while a play is going on. It’s really the lifeblood of a good defensive team, is to talk. It gets you really to play as one, so we’re constantly working on that where you help a teammate and you try to play five as one that way.”

On his relationship with North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis:
“We have a great relationship. Hubert is one of the really good people on this planet. He and his family are great. His father-in-law and I were teammates at West Point – Bobby Seigle. So, I’ve known the Seigle family for a long time. Hubert, he was not only a great player – he’s an outstanding coach. His guys should really look up to him as far as what it means to be a man. He’s got it all, and I feel honored to say he’s been a friend for a long time.”

On the possibility of freshman guard Trevor Keels being in the starting lineup:
“I think we can make too much of starting lineups. Whether he starts, he’s one of our best players. In the Notre Dame game, he was the guy running the team the last five minutes of the first half with Bates [Jones] out there, Joey [Baker], Theo [John] and we went on a 9-0 run. Just having him gives us more flexibility. The amount of minutes these guys play will be starter minutes, whether he starts a game or not. But having him back is a big help.”

On what Duke has to do to limit North Carolina forward/center Armando Bacot:
“He’s one of the best players in the country. He’ll be a candidate for Player of the Year in our conference. He’s put up great numbers many games in a row. It’s not like you have 19 [points] and 22 [rebounds in just one game] – you have 18 and 17. It’s just constant vigilance of trying to block him out. Hopefully we can limit some of those numbers, but you’re not going to stop a guy like that – he’s too good. He’s relentless on the boards.”

On how important junior Wendell Moore Jr.’s veteran presence is going into Saturday’s game:
“I don’t think we’re going to be nervous, so I don’t think that’s his role. His role is just to be a veteran leader. Our guys want to play this game. They may be antsy to do well, but nervous is not going to be part of it. I don’t expect them [North Carolina] to be nervous either. These kids want to play in games like this. I think Wendell’s talk in any game, as a leader, helps us tremendously. I want him to continue to do that. I actually want Paolo [Banchero] and some of these other guys to talk a little bit more. I don’t think nerves will have a bearing on this game.”

On what he will remember most about coaching against North Carolina at the Smith Center:
“Just the excellence of the games. Either here or there, at the jump ball, when you look at the guys on the court and say, ‘Woah, there are a lot of good players on the court.’ I’ve seen so many great players play against us in Carolina uniforms. Thank goodness we’ve been able to have a few of our own, too, which has made it unbelievable. I think that’s what I’ll remember the most, is the level of talent from both teams on the court. We’ve had so many amazing games. Some that we’ve won and some that we’ve lost, but they’ve been really high-level games.”

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