INDIANAPOLIS - Two star freshmen, a solid senior, and some of the trademark defense Duke has long been known for have the Blue Devils back in the national championship game.
And in Indianapolis, no less.
Justise Winslow scored 19 points, fellow freshman Jahlil Okafor added 18, and senior Quinn Cook had 17 to lead top-seeded Duke to an 81-61 victory over Michigan State on Saturday and into yet another title game in the city known for a 500-mile auto race.
The Blue Devils won it all in Indianapolis in 1991, their first under Mike Krzyzewski. The winningest men's Division I coach, who has a 9-3 record in national semifinal games, led them to their fourth and most recent title in 2010.
"This team, though, deserved to be in it. So it makes it even better. They've been so good in this tournament and the stage has not been too big for them," Krzyzewski said.
The start against Michigan State didn't look too promising for a trip to Monday night's title game. The Spartans were ahead, 14-6, just four minutes into the game, making five of their first seven shots and the first four they took from beyond the three-point line.
Things changed and in a hurry.
"After the first four minutes, we were a different team. We played great basketball tonight, especially on the defensive end," Krzyzewski said.
Defensively, it was a team effort, just the way Krzyzewski has stressed for his 35 seasons at Duke. What had been wide open three-pointers early for Michigan State became contested shots and when the Blue Devils started getting up and into the Spartans, the points were suddenly tough to come by.
"They did a good job of taking me away," said Michigan State's Denzel Valentine, who had nine of his 22 points in that opening run, including three three-pointers. "I got hot, and they started denying a little bit and started forcing us to take bad shots and the next thing you know they had the lead."
The two Duke freshmen put up some impressive stats in their first Final Four game. Winslow, who played through some early foul trouble, had nine rebounds and was 5 for 7 from the field, while Okafor grabbed six rebounds and was 7 for 11 from the field.
"I don't think we started the game out with the intensity we needed," Cook said. "When we got down early Coach got on us and the last 36 minutes we played one of our better games. It's definitely hard out there, but we just strung some stops together and great defense led to great offense."
Valentine had 11 rebounds for the Spartans (27-12) while Travis Trice added 16 points.
A win on Monday night would mean a fifth national championship for Krzyzewski, breaking a tie with Kentucky's Adolph Rupp and leaving him behind only John Wooden, who won 10 at UCLA.
"It's an amazing thing, I mean, just to be in the Final Four, but to play on Monday night is the ultimate honor," Krzyzewski said. "I hope our guys get their rest and we can get the same type of effort we got tonight.
"Now they've got a chance to play for a national championship, and damn, damn, how great is that?"