— JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - California’s Jerome Randle held his ground.
The eighth-seeded Golden Bears respect what Duke has accomplished in three decades under coach Mike Krzyzewski, the Pac-10 player of the year said — but they aren’t in awe of the top-seeded Blue Devils.
When the teams meet Sunday in the second round of the South Regional, Randle expects a tough game that Cal has just as good a chance to win as favored Duke, owners of a much richer tradition of success in the NCAA tournament.
“The challenge is you just have to go out there and put it all on the line,” said Randle, who had 21 points in Cal’s first win in the NCAAs since 2003, a 77-62 victory over Louisville on Friday night.
“They obviously have a decent scout of us, as well as we do of them. But, I mean, they don’t really know what we’re really capable of. The same as we don’t really know what they’re capable of until we both step on the floor.”
With 10 trips to the Final Four and three national titles under Krzyzewski, it’s difficult to ignore Duke’s stature.
The Blue Devils are accustomed to having a target on their backs, so they’re unfazed when opposing players proclaim, as Randle did on Saturday, that “they strap on their shoes just as we do.”
They’ve come to expect the other’s team best shot.
“I think it’s a learned experience because you don’t have the same players all the time,” said Krzyzewski, whose Atlantic Coast Conference champions dominated Arkansas-Pine Bluff in their opener and are trying to advance to the round of 16 for the second time since Duke last made the Final Four in 2006.
“With this year’s team, since we have some veteran players, it’s helped the younger players understand it more, and therefore we’ve done better,” the coach added. “But when we only had freshmen and sophomores a couple years ago, they don’t understand that sometimes the team they saw on tape turned out to be a different team.”
Cal won its first Pac-10 title in 50 years during a season in which the conference was considered weak.
Playing without suspended forward Omondi Amoke, seniors Randle, Theo Robertson and Patrick Christopher led the Golden Bears to a surprisingly easy victory over Louisville.
The trio’s shooting ability is a potential problem for Duke, one of the best defensive teams in the country. Randle, Robertson and Christopher have more range than typical college 3-point shooters.
“All three of those guys stretch you, and they shoot NBA 3s, so it’ll be a real challenge for our defense,” Krzyzewski said.
The Duke coach related his impressions of the three Cal stars, breaking down some of their strengths and saying he can’t remember facing an opponent with more effective long-range shooters.
Suddenly, he stopped.
“The more I’m talking about it, now I’m getting even more concerned,” Krzyzewski said. “But they’re really good. I mean, it’s not just coaching talk; they wouldn’t have won their league and scored all the points they have.”
Duke’s big, physical frontcourt and superior depth will test Cal, which only had six players play significant minutes. Two others off the bench played three minutes or less.
Although the Blue Devils played down the perceived advantage of having a deep bench, Cal coach Mike Montgomery conceded the Golden Bears can’t afford to get into foul trouble trying to contain Duke’s Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer.
“We’ve played this way all year. We’ve never really gone big minutes past about seven (players),” Montgomery said.
“But at this stage of the game, what I worry about has no bearing on what’s going to happen or what we need to do,” he said. “We need to do the things that we do well.”