CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The last time Mike Krzyzewski and Steve Fisher met in the NCAA Tournament, they were coaching two of the most memorable teams in college basketball history for a national title.
They’re facing off again more than two decades later, when Krzyzewski and the top-seeded Blue Devils (30-4) face Fisher and the eighth-seeded Aztecs (27-8) in Sunday’s round of 32 in the South Regional.
It’s a testament to the longevity of both coaches. One stayed put to become the winningest coach in men’s Division I history while the other went west and built a consistent winner at a program with no postseason success before his arrival.
“The excitement for me is we’re playing,” Fisher said Saturday. “We’re playing in the NCAA Tournament, we won a game, we’re in the round of 32. We’re playing a great, great program but we’ll be worrying about the players on the floor.
“Mike is the architect and I think I would probably lose 10-9 in a game against him. But he’s not going to be playing. Nor will I.”
The two veteran coaches — Krzyzewski is 68, Fisher turns 70 on Tuesday — talked about a friendship that Krzyzewski said predated their only tournament matchup in the 1992 final.
The nearly 23-year gap will be the longest between tournament meetings for head coaches in NCAA history, according to STATS.
The ’92 matchup between Duke and Fisher’s Michigan team featured big names like Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill and the Wolverines’ “Fab Five” freshmen. The Blue Devils won 71-51 for their second straight championship.
No Duke player was born then; three San Diego State players hadn’t reached 6 months old yet.
“We’re both old coaches who got in it for the right reasons and we’re still in it for the right reasons,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s just been really good for basketball. I’ve enjoyed my friendship with him.”
Krzyzewski has gone on to reach 1,013 career victories and win two more titles since then. He has his 13th No. 1-seeded team behind star freshman big man Jahlil Okafor.
Fisher took over at San Diego State in 1999 — Fisher said he received a message of “Welcome back” from Krzyzewski when he took the job — and has guided the Aztecs to six straight NCAA Tournaments with two trips to the Sweet 16. He also won a national title at Michigan in 1989.
The two coaches are still just as driven all these years later, too.
“It’s funny because when (Fisher) wants you to do something, he’s going to act it out for you,” senior Aztecs forward JJ O’Brien said. “… He’s moving his feet real quick and everything. He moves pretty well for a 70-year-old man, I must say.”
Here are things to know about Sunday’s San Diego State-Duke game in Charlotte:
AQ’S HEALTH: San Diego State guard Aqeel Quinn (10.8 points) is still recovering from apparent food poisoning. Quinn said he started feeling badly after eating a turkey sandwich Thursday, then started vomiting and needed an IV by that night. He played just 19 minutes and went 1 for 6 from the field in Friday’s win against St. John’s but said Saturday he’s “pretty solid now.”
DEFENDING OKAFOR: Okafor had 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting in Friday’s tournament-opening victory against undersized Robert Morris, but San Diego State has more size and older guys up front. Aztecs junior forward Skylar Spencer said defenders must stay alert “because when you playing against a good big man, you rest for one second they can catch you slipping, and that’s an automatic 2 points.”
3-POINT SHOOTING: When Duke is playing its best, Okafor is dominating inside then kicking it out to senior Quinn Cook and freshman Tyus Jones. Duke hit 10 of 21 3-pointers Friday. Meanwhile, the Aztecs took an unusually-high 22 in their opener, making nine, though Fisher was OK with that because the shots were good looks.
REBOUNDING: Cook put it simply: Duke has to rebound. “Those guys are humongous,” he said. The Aztecs finished with a 40-32 rebounding advantage Friday, while Duke — down to eight scholarship players — doesn’t have a lot of size outside of the 6-foot-11 Okafor and 7-foot reserve Marshall Plumlee.
TEMPO: Duke would love to speed up the tempo and get out in transition. The Blue Devils average 81 points and scored 17 fast-break points against Robert Morris. Compare that to San Diego State, which averages about 62 points and scored one fast-break basket against St. John’s.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.