Duke, Wake Forest find added stakes in rivalry

Sunday, January 12, 2003

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke and Wake Forest finally figure to face a test.

Both 10-0 and both beating opponents by more than 20 points a game, the only two major college undefeated teams will play each other tonight.

The top-ranked Blue Devils certainly will have the mental edge heading into the Atlantic Coast Conference game: They have won 13 straight games against the No. 17 Demon Deacons.

"A lot of people don't give us a chance Sunday, but that's just more fuel added to the fire," Wake Forest's Josh Howard said. "There's nothing we can do about it if that's what people think about us. We've just got to go in there to prove them wrong. But being 10-0 shows a lot of growth in this team."

These actually are two young teams that were expected to be trying to find their way in early January. Not even close.

Duke is dismissing opponents by an average of 20.9 points. Wake Forest's games have been even more lopsided, ending with an average margin of 23.8 points.

Duke finished the last four seasons with the No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press poll. But with five freshmen among their top 10 players, the Blue Devils were supposed to struggle early.

Wake Forest has a similar mix of youth, starting freshmen at point guard and center.

"I'm not sure we've earned it yet. We're still in the process of earning it," Duke junior Nick Horvath said, referring to the No. 1 ranking.

"Before, we always had the one major star -- last year we had three major stars -- but with this team it's not one particular guy every single night. It's more of a team effort, and we're a cohesive unit this year. It's a lot of fun to play on this team."

Coach Mike Krzyzewski says his club has the ability to challenge for another national title.

"The team pretty much understands how good we are and how good we are not," said Krzyzewski, whose club averages 89.6 points.

"What they have to learn to deal with -- and being ranking high helps you learn this quickly and sometimes in a very hard fashion -- is what people around you are thinking is a lot different than what you're thinking or doing.

"A No. 1 ranking motivates your opponents more and at times it makes your fans think you're maybe ahead of where you actually are. We know that we're not the best that we can be right now, and I'm pretty sure we're not the best in the country."

Wake Forest has victories over Wisconsin, Temple, Richmond and St. John's, and should provide a test for Duke. The Demon Deacons are big inside, quick, deep and have an All-American contender in the 6-foot-6 Howard.

"They have truly one of the outstanding players in the country in Josh Howard," Krzyzewski said. "He's an elite player, and having him on the team with the other talent and depth that they have produces a winning combination."

Duke expects to put defensive stopper Dahntay Jones on Howard.

"It's almost an even match, and it's not going to depend on us two going at each other, but what team works well together," Jones said.

Howard's previous three trips to Cameron Indoor Stadium have been anything but fond memories. He's fouled out twice and missed the other game with the flu.

But Howard has had a super start to the season despite a leg injury in preseason.

"I just knew I had to fight through it, I couldn't let it be my downfall," Howard said. "It could have been a major downfall for the team, too, if I came in every day worrying about my leg. I can play through the pain and I've been doing it. I am going to keep dealing with it."

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