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Originally published December 8, 2011 at 9:13 PM | Page modified December 9, 2011 at 5:01 PM

Can Washington beat Duke?

The Huskies must believe they can win, says former UW star Eldridge Recasner, if they have are to have any chance of upsetting the nation's seventh-ranked team on Saturday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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NEW YORK — Believe you can win.

That's the advice Eldridge Recasner would give the Washington Huskies before they step on the Madison Square Garden floor on Saturday to face No. 7 Duke.

"Sometimes that's the most important thing is believing whether or not you belong on the court," said the former UW star who lost two games to the Blue Devils. "It may sound like a simple thing, but it starts there."

On Jan. 3, 1989, then-No. 1 ranked Duke stormed into the Pacific Northwest for a game against the Huskies at Edmundson Pavilion.

It wasn't close. Washington lost 87-61.

Recasner remembers being excited to play the Blue Devils, but declined to say if he thought the Huskies truly believed they could topple one of the giants in the game.

"I remember them being a really disciplined team," he said of Duke. "They played great team basketball. I never thought back then they had great individual players, but as a team I thought they were really, really good.

"I remember being able to beat my man — Bobby Hurley, Thomas Hill or whoever it was at the time — but they always had somebody there to help out. You could never get an easy shot off of them because they were really disciplined."

The next season, the teams met for a rematch at famed Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke entered the contest with a 4-2 record and ranked 12th, but Washington was spoiling for an upset.

For Brent Merritt, then a junior guard, his second road game with the Huskies was an overwhelming experience.

"Once you got off the plane, you felt the intensity," he said. "We went to the movies and the mall and people were already talking (about the game). Just regular, random people.

"It kind of gets you pumped up before you play. ... It was one of the top three basketball moments in my life."

Washington lost 74-64, but "we were in the game until the end and then the referees took over," Merritt said. "That happens sometimes with Duke as well."

The Huskies are 1-3 all-time against Duke, with an 80-78 triumph in the second round of the 1984 NCAA tournament.

"There's just something about that team," Merritt said of the Blue Devils. "They bring out the best and worst in you."

No college basketball team elicits as much hatred, respect and admiration, either.

Maybe it's the four national championships, the last in 2010.

Or the string of national Player of the Year recipients, including Johnny Dawkins, Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner, Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Jason Williams and J.J. Redick.

Or maybe it's coach Mike Krzyzewski, the all-time winningest coach in the game. He owns a 908-285 record, with an 835-226 mark at Duke.

"That's pretty remarkable," said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, who needs a victory for win No. 200 with the Huskies.

After Tuesday's heartbreaking 79-77 loss to No. 11 Marquette, sophomore guard Terrence Ross said the Huskies need to beat the Blue Devils if they are to extend their string of three NCAA tournament appearances.

"I feel like we have to win every game," Ross said. "This next game, it's gonna be big. They're ranked and if we can do what we can do and play the way we're supposed to play and come out with a victory, it can really help us in the future."

The key to victory begins before the game, Recasner said.

"The Huskies, first and foremost, have to come out and believe they belong in the game with Duke," Recasner said. "Last year when we played North Carolina (in the third round of the NCAA tournament), I don't think we thought we belonged and it showed.

"If we come out and feel like we belong, I think we'll have a chance. But if we don't do that, it'll be tough."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @percyallen

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