Coach Van Chancellor distilled everything that makes Duke an imposing opponent for his LSU team into one simple sentence.
``We drew, legitimately, one of the five best teams in the country, playing at home, playing well,'' Chancellor said Sunday.
No, it's never easy to play the Blue Devils in an NCAA tournament game on their home floor. But if there's a team equipped to challenge their long home winning streak in the tournament, it might be his seventh-seeded Tigers.
In a matchup of hoops heavyweights with similar pedigrees and a combined nine Final Fours since 1999, No. 2 seed Duke (28-5) plays host to LSU (21-9) on Monday night in the second round of the Memphis Regional. The winner earns a trip to Memphis for the regional semifinals next weekend against the winner of the subregional being held in Austin, Texas.
The Blue Devils have been unbeatable lately in NCAA tournament games at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where they've won 13 in a row in the postseason. But they also haven't entertained a team quite like LSU, which seems capable of matching them in athletic ability and experience.
``You can try to distract with streaks and records and where you're playing and who's playing and what happened before, but to me, the reality is, you're responsible for what you create on the floor,'' Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. ``They're long and aggressive. We're long and aggressive. You've just got to play the game. Give credit where credit is due (to) two excellent defensive teams.''
The Tigers rank in the top 10 nationally in five major stat categories. Only one team in the nation takes better care of the basketball than they do - LSU turns it over just 12 1/2 times per game - and that presents a significant challenge for a Duke team that prides itself on defense, ranking second nationally with roughly 13 1/2 steals per game.
All signs point to a defensive slugfest: The Blue Devils are 20-0 when holding opponents to 60 or fewer points, while LSU led the SEC in scoring defense for the sixth straight season.
``Tomorrow night's going to come down to defense, just like most teams do,'' Duke guard Jasmine Thomas said. ``As long as we stay focused on taking care of the ball and forcing them into more turnovers than they're used to ... we'll be OK.''
These proud programs have crossed postseason paths a few times through the years, with LSU holding a 2-1 record in the tournament and Duke beating the Tigers in the 2006 Final Four, when the oldest players on both teams were still in high school.
They enter their first meeting since then after easy first-round wins: LSU (21-9) routed Hartford 60-39 a few hours before Duke (28-5) beat Hampton 72-37. The Blue Devils haven't lost a tournament game at home since 1997, their average margin of victory during the streak is 25 1/2 points, and they're trying to reach the regional round for the 12th time in 13 years.
``Some teams are rated and inflated,'' Chancellor said. ``This team is probably rated a little bit too low.''
That's at least partly why he's looking for more production out of his best player, all-Southeastern Conference guard Allison Hightower, who averages 18 1/2 points and whom McCallie said ``can score at will, and looks to often.'' She scored just 10 against Hartford, but the Tigers didn't any more than that from her.
That probably won't be the case this time.
``If Allison Hightower only has 10 points (Monday) night,'' Chancellor quipped, ``I'll be playing golf by Wednesday afternoon.''
That'll no doubt be a chore against a Duke team that always generates its momentum from its defense. In McCallie's third year, the Blue Devils have transitioned to a team that thrives on cranking up a full-court press that feeds off the Cameron crowd. Duke leads the ACC in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and turnover margin.
``They bring pressure from all over the court,'' Hightower said. ``We're going to have to be ready for it.''