On April 2, 1990, Duke was blown out by UNLV, 103-73, in the national championship.
That’s right. The Runnin’ Rebels hung a 40-point loss on Mike Krzyzewski, who, at the time, was yet to win a national title. With the game no longer in doubt, Krzyzewski could have easily taken out his starters and not let them endure the pain and embarrassment that come with getting blown out on national television. That’s the conventional move. Instead, Krzyzewski kept his best players on the floor.
It was a test.
“It’s the old cliche: How do you respond to adversity?” former Duke point guard and current Buffalo head coach Bobby Hurley said on Tiki and Tierney. “It was a lot of suffering that night for us. It was not much fun at all to be in that game and to have to own it, especially late in the game, and still be out on the floor. I think he was teaching me a lesson: This is not acceptable, and you got to be accountable. So I think we learned a lot from that.”
It appears they did. Duke won back-to-back national titles in 1991 and 1992.
“We were able to respond to (his test) the next year when we had another opportunity (to win it all),” Hurley said of the run in ’91. “He did a phenomenal job that week leading in just to build our confidence up with the things that he was saying and the film that we were watching and the things that we were going to do differently in this game to make us more competitive. It prepared us to go out there and play our best in that Final Four.”
Duke won a rematch with UNLV, 79-77, and then beat Kansas, 72-65, for the national championship.
Those are two of Krzyzewski’s 1,000 career wins. The 67-year-old became the first Division I men’s coach to reach four digits after a 77-68 win over St. John’s on Sunday. Duke trailed 43-39 at halftime but outscored St. John’s 38-25 thereafter, reaching the historic mark in Madison Square Garden.
“It’s great to talk about coach,” Hurley said. “He meant so much to me. That’s one of the best decisions I made – to go and play for him. He fueled the fire that I had as a player and brought out the best in me in terms of developing my competitiveness and really understanding how to prepare to be successful. I’ve carried over a lot of lessons I’ve learned, and I’m trying to bring these things here to Buffalo because of what he meant to me in my life.”
Krzyzewski’s motivational bag is deep and effective – so much so that the three-time Naismith Coach of the Year has the ability to make you believe you can do things that you didn’t think were possible.
“It was right up my alley as a player,” Hurley said. “I played the game with a lot of passion and a lot of emotion. I fueled off of coach’s emotion and his pre-game speeches. It’s not just the words. There’s true emotion and passion behind it. He makes people believe and . . . (he enables you) to just play at your highest level in terms of energy. It was one of a kind to get a chance to compete for him.”