LAHAINA, Maui - So many positives came out of the men's basketball team's 95-87 win over Arizona that it's hard to pinpoint just one thing.
The biggest was the fact Duke displayed definite areas for improvement and yet still upended the top-ranked team in the country by a fairly wide margin.
There was Steve Wojciechowski's smothering of Mike Bibby and Duke's ability to overcome cold outside shooting from Trajan Langdon. Lest we forget the poise of the freshmen down the stretch and Roshown McLeod's maturity to accept his redefined role and flourish in it.
Yet what stood out the most at the Lahaina Civic Center was how much more desire and focus the Blue Devils had than the defending national champs.
The statistics didn't speak to the dominance Duke displayed for most of 40 minutes. Arizona outshot the Blue Devils from the inside and beyond the three-point arc, was outrebounded by only two and dished out eight more assists than Duke.
The Blue Devils did create open shots, but their starting guards were a combined 4-of-20 from three-point range.
The difference? It began before the game even started. About 30 minutes before, in fact.
The Wildcats swaggered onto the court, exhorting the crowd with pointer fingers raised to show their No. 1 ranking. During warmups, Bibby and company were laughing and whooping it up, throwing alley-oops minutes away from tipoff as if this were just another game against another overmatched opponent.
Only Miles Simon looked focused, and not coincidentally, he was Arizona's best player all afternoon.
But Simon's focus was matched by the entire squad from Duke. Not a word as the players warmed up, only the look in their eyes that they knew the challenge and opportunity that awaited.
It wasn't all that surprising when the Blue Devils jumped out early. Shane Battier and Elton Brand wanted every rebound. Wojo wanted to constantly be in Bibby's face. Late in the fourth quarter with Arizona charging back, there was a loose ball near the Wildcat basket. Two Duke players hit the floor for the ball, none from Arizona followed suit.
Duke wanted this game. The Wildcats expected it to be theirs. Only in the fourth quarter did they finally realize they had met a team with as much talent, but by then it was too late.
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"I just didn't think we were after them like we needed to be in the first half," Arizona coach Lute Olson said. "Their guys battled like we expected them to battle. It was a great job by Duke wire to wire."
In this case, the wire began well before the opening tip. It continued once the first quarter began. The Blue Devils buried their first four shots, including a trio of threes, and led a stunned Arizona 13-6 less than three minutes in. The lead grew to double digits at the end of the period, hit 19 before halftime and reached 60-36 before the Wildcats finally rallied.
Only a day earlier Arizona had done a similar job on Kentucky-a quick start led to an easy rout. In that game, though, Arizona was clearly the better team. Not so against Duke.
Bibby, who looked so good as he laughed during his pregame jam session, managed only three first-half shots, none of which went in. The sophomore scored eight points, well-below his 21-point average for the first two games in Maui, before fouling out with a minute left. Bibby was not laughing as he took a final seat on the Arizona bench. Nor were any of his teammates.
Instead, Duke was shaking hands with the mayor of Lahaina after the final buzzer sounded. Still no wild celebration, though. After the game, the players were pleased but still not satisfied. There is room to improve. That's probably the best part about the trip to Maui-Duke may be the best right now and will only continue to get better.
"We want to play well every time out on the floor," McLeod said. "Arizona being No. 1, it was a greater challenge, and I like challenges."
There are many challenges ahead before the Blue Devils reach the NCAA tournament in over three months, and this win was only the beginning for Duke.
But it was a beginning built on desire and focus, key elements that the former No. 1 team never truly displayed. Duke knocked the swagger out of Arizona, and staked its claim to be the new No. 1 team in the process.
"We're still going to learn about this team for a long time," Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "The main strength for us is that we have a great group of kids who are talented and work together. I admire the fact that each one of these kids pulls 100 percent for the other all the time. If you think that's common, it's not.
"The fact that we have some talent that can be developed into experienced talent excites me. We'll just see how that keeps going."