Fittingly, Mike Krzyzewski’s final chapter as Duke’s basketball coach will be at the Final Four.
And win or lose, he will stand alone.
No. 2 seed Duke beat No. 4 seed Arkansas, 78-69, on Saturday night in the NCAA Tournament West Region championship game in San Francisco to send Coach K to his NCAA record-breaking 13th Final Four. He broke the mark of 12 by the late UCLA coach John Wooden, who last went in 1975 when he won his 10th national championship after announcing his retirement at age 64 just two days previously.
The Blue Devils (32-6) will be after their sixth national championship — all under Krzyzewski — in their first trip to the Final Four since 2015 when Duke won its fifth national title. Krzyzewski, 75, announced this would be his last season over the summer.
“I’m so happy,” Krzyzewski said moments after the game. “There’s nothing like winning a Regional championship and going to the Final Four and playing on that Saturday three other champions. It’s an amazing day.”
Duke will play on Saturday at the Superdome in New Orleans against the winner of No. 8 seed North Carolina (27-9) and No. 15 seed Cinderella Saint Peter’s (22-11), which play on Sunday at 5:05 p.m. Eastern on CBS.
Duke and North Carolina, located six miles apart, have the most heated rivalry in college basketball with 257 games and North Carolina leading 142-115, but they have never met in an NCAA Tournament. North Carolina also leads all schools in Final Four appearances with 20. Duke is fourth with 17. Saint Peter’s would be the highest seed ever to reach the Final Four.
No. 1 seed Kansas (31-6) meets No. 10 seed Miami (26-10) at 2:20 p.m. eastern on Sunday on CBS to decide another Final Four entry. In other action Saturday, No. 2 seed Villanova (30-7) advanced to the Final Four with a 50-44 win over No. 5 seed Houston (32-6).
Arkansas (28-9) finished in the Elite Eight for the second straight season under third-year coach Eric Musselman.
The Blue Devils controlled the first half and never trailed for the rest of the game after taking a 16-14 lead with 12:12 to go before intermission. Duke outscored Arkansas 8-0 over the final 1:26 of the first half, taking a 45-33 lead on a three-pointer by Trevor Keels with two seconds to go.
Arkansas cut it to 53-48 early in the second half, but Krzyzewski called timeout with 13:13 left and went to a zone defense, which helped Duke defeat Texas Tech on Thursday. The Blue Devils then went on a 10-0 run to take their largest lead at 63-48, and it was over.
“They outplayed us at the start of the second half,” Krzyzewski said. “They got it to five. And after the timeout, we were a different team. Going zone helped us. We scored two straight times, and that was big.”
Freshman forward AJ Griffin led Duke with 18 points. Freshman forward Paolo Banchero scored 16 with seven rebounds, and junior forward Wendell Moore Jr. scored 14. Forward Jaylin Williams scored 19 points with 10 rebounds to lead Arkansas, but the Razorbacks’ defense could not stop Duke’s balanced attack as six players scored nine points or more.
“I can’t even put this into words right now,” Moore said. “We got a job done, but the job’s not finished. Two more to go.”
Krzyzewski’s first trip to the Final Four was in his sixth season as Duke’s head coach in 1986. He won his first national championship on his fifth trip in 1991. He said Friday he wanted another Final Four, not only for his players.
“For me, too, come on,” he said laughing. “You can only give so much to the church. You want something back, you know? A little bit of forgiveness and less of a penance when you go in the box, you know? It would be a cool thing.”
Banchero called it more than that.
“We’ve been working since June for this,” he said. “It’s really surreal that we’re here right now on our way to New Orleans for the Final Four. It’s a dream come true.”
A dozen dreams plus one for Coach K.
“He’s the GOAT (greatest of all time),” Banchero said.
“I’m on their bus,” Krzyzewski said.