PHILADELPHIA -- The NCAA East Regional final will match a team of seniors and juniors playing their second full season together against a starting five that has three sophomores and a freshman.
It would be easy to assume that top-ranked Duke, the school with six Final Four appearances and two national championships during the '90s, is the one with all the experience rather than sixth-seeded Southern California, which is seeking its third Final Four berth and first since 1954.
On Saturday night, it will be the team from the West Coast trying to use that experience for yet another upset in this tournament.
"They are a veteran team, a team that's played together. They're tough. They're men," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of the Trojans (24-9). "They're a difficult matchup for us because their experience, not just individually but collectively, makes them very good."
Southern California has used that experience to win its three tournament games, getting out to a big lead each time, then holding on down the stretch.
"We have come out in each game in the NCAA tournament with a lot of energy and we have to again now," Trojans coach Henry Bibby said.
The most recent start was a 31-10 opening against second-seeded Kentucky, like the Blue Devils (32-4) a young and talented team, and the Trojans hung on for an 80-76 victory.
"They've gotten off to the best starts of anybody in the tournament and I think that's because they're as veteran a team as anybody in the tournament," Krzyzewski said. "They know who they are. They look like they don't get too excited, just go about their business. We have to get off to a start to match theirs so we don't play from behind right away. That has to be one of our goals."
Duke didn't get off to a great start in the 76-63 regional semifinal win over fourth-seeded UCLA, but with Jason Williams scoring 19 straight points in the second half, the Blue Devils closed impressively.
"We're going to throw a lot of guys at him and try to wear him down," Trojans point guard Brandon Granville said of Williams, who has averaged 29 points per game in the tournament.
Shane Battier, Williams' teammate and fellow All-American, has averaged 24.0 points and 10.7 rebounds in the tournament. He is the only senior in the Blue Devils' starting lineup.
The Trojans have used their matchup zone and balanced offense -- all five starters are averaging between 17.7 and 9.3 points per game -- in the tournament
These teams met last season in the Wooden Classic with Duke winning 81-68. Southern Cal will start the same five players from that game.
"We look back at that game and note they were a very, very good team with great athletes who are well-coached," Bibby said.
Battier and Williams both started that game, but Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy and Nate James will again see a lot of minutes as they did then.
Boozer played Thursday night for 22 minutes after missing six games with a broken bone in his foot and Dunleavy injured his shoulder early in the game, making it feel "like I had a five-pound weight on my elbow when I shot."
"Mike's shoulder is still sore but not to the level we thought it would be and Carlos reacted well to the 22 minutes," Krzyzewski said.
This is Krzyzewski's 10th regional final at Duke and the Blue Devils are 8-1 in those games.
"If you take getting to an Elite Eight for granted then you shouldn't be coaching," he said. "When you are fortunate to get this far it's with a different team. This may be the youngest starting five I've ever had get this far. To see it through their eyes and experience it through them is ice."
Bibby never has coached a team this deep into the tournament but he played on UCLA's national championship teams from 1970-72.
"Duke has all the mystique. They have all the tradition there is with going to the NCAA tournament," Bibby said. "They are accustomed to being here. There's nothing like coming here every year.
"People talk about us celebrating us after each win, well, this is the first time we've gotten here. When you've come as many times as Duke and UCLA and Kentucky, you don't have a lot to celebrate. This is normal for them. This is not normal for USC to be here every year and we're happy about it and I think the kids have a right to show people they're excited about it."
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