ROSEMONT, Ill. -- This was a matchup people started talking about when the pairings to the NCAA tournament were announced Sunday, when the possibility arose that Duke could play California in the second round of the Midwest Regional.
This was a matchup two players started thinking about Thursday night, when Bobby Hurley led the Blue Devils to a 105-70 rout of Southern Illinois with a great shooting performance and Jason Kidd sneaked the Bears past Louisiana State, 66-64, with a great last-second shot.
And this was the matchup that their respective coaches tried to play down yesterday as third-seeded Duke (24-7) prepared to meet sixth-seeded Cal (20-8) today at approximately 7 p.m. at the Rosemont Horizon. Second-seeded Kansas (26-6) will meet seventh-seeded Brigham Young (25-8) in the first game, beginning at 4:30 p.m.
"At times they will [guard each other]," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "But I don't see them going after each other for a full ballgame."
Cal coach Todd Bozeman went as far as to start his news conference yesterday by saying, "This is not Jason Kidd against Bobby Hurley. This is Cal against Duke."
But the Hurley-Kidd matchup, whether it's for 40 minutes or four, is the most celebrated individual matchup of the tournament's first week. The reason is simple: they are two of the best point guards in college basketball.
Hurley is a blue-collar senior from New Jersey who has led the Blue Devils to two straight NCAA championships and 19 victories in his 20 NCAA tournament games. Kidd is a blue-chip freshman from California who many considered to be the best high school player in the country last year.
"It's hard to compare them because they're different types of players," said Kansas coach Roy Williams, whose Jayhawks played against Hurley in the 1991 championship game and who tried to recruit Kidd. "About the only similarity to their games is their competitiveness."
Hurley is nearly three inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter than Kidd, but he is probably the most experienced player in this tournament. He is also a better outside shooter than Kidd. Against Southern Illinois, Hurley scored 25 points by making eight of nine shots, including six of seven threes.
"I remember Magic Johnson talking about Bobby Hurley on ESPN after the Olympic camp, saying how well he played," Kidd said yesterday. "Coming from the great Magic Johnson, I took that as being a real compliment for Hurley."
It has been an interesting freshman year for Kidd. First came the 5-0 start and the No. 19 ranking. Then came the three-game losing streak and the controversy that precipitated the Feb. 8 firing of Bears coach Lou Campanelli for verbally abusing his players. Finally, the streak of 10 wins in 11 games that brought Cal, in its second NCAA tournament appearance since 1960, to tonight's second round.
"I think the biggest difference between me then and me now is that I'm a lot happier," said Kidd, who leads the country in steals with 102 and who had 16 points and seven assists in his first NCAA tournament game.
Kidd's heroics against LSU came on a similar play to one he failed to convert at Washington earlier this season. In Thursday's game, Kidd drove the lane and spun a shot over LSU center Geert Hammink off the backboard to score.
If tonight's game comes down to a last-second situation, everyone in the Horizon will expect Kidd to have the ball for the Bears, or Hurley to have it for the Blue Devils.
"Someone 6-4 definitely has an advantage in shooting the ball," Hurley said. "But I've played against guys like Jalen Rose [Michigan's 6-7 point guard]. Maybe I can do some things to get him out of his game."
Said Kidd: "I have a lot of respect for what Bobby Hurley has done at Duke. But I won't be in awe. We're just two players out there playing hard. It's a big game. It's not the Hurley-Kidd show."