EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It had been, in retrospect, Temple's best opportunity to get to the Final Four. It was the 1991 East Regional final against No. 1 seed North Carolina. Despite a lousy shooting game from guard Mark Macon, the Owls were in position to win when King Rice banked in an ugly three-pointer late in the Tar Heels' 75-72 win.
"I think about that game a lot," Temple coach John Chaney said Chaney yesterday, reflecting on how despondent he was after that loss. "King Rice threw in a shot off the top of the backboard. I don't think Rice had made a basket all year -- a terrible guard. But I guess that's why they call him King."
This afternoon Chaney will get another shot at his first Final Four. That opportunity will take place at the Continental Airlines Arena -- the same site as that 1991 loss -- where the sixth-seeded Owls will attempt to knock off No. 1 seed Duke.
Chaney must know that his great coaching career will not be defined by whether he gets to the Final Four or not. But the fierce competitor in him still has the burning desire to reach college basketball's grandest stage, with the opportunity to coach for a national title.
"Everybody would love to get to the top of the hill," Chaney said. "But we've made many trips to the tournament and that will be my mark of success, even if I don't ever make it to the Final Four."
There aren't many who expect Chaney to make it this year, not against the most dominant team in basketball, which will take a school-record 30-game winning streak into this regional final. But don't count out the Owls, who shot a season-best 52.7 percent in Friday night's 77-55 semifinal victory over Purdue.
Call it the toughness factor. In the three games Duke played against teams that could be described as talented, fearless and tough, the Blue Devils lost to Cincinnati (77-75), beat Kentucky (71-60) and won in overtime against St. John's (92-88).
The fact that Temple has inside size, an aggressive defense and a swagger that could match Duke's should make the game interesting.
"We are not afraid of Duke," said Mark Karcher, the former St. Frances star who scored 21 points against Purdue. "When we saw we were in Duke's bracket, we looked forward to playing them. We just need to come to play."
Temple's game plan will be simple: stick with the matchup zone defense, which has a lot of elements of a 1-3-1 and has been the trademark of Chaney's teams for years. The desired effect is to take away the interior strength of center Elton Brand, who will face his biggest inside opponents to date in the tournament in Temple 6-foot-9 freshman center Kevin Lyde and 6-10 forward Lamont Barnes.
"Our zone is designed to prevent a lot of inside shots," said Temple guard Rasheed Brokenborough. "The three-point shot is a low-percentage shot. If they shoot all threes in a game and beat us, then they deserve to win."
That defensive philosophy would appear to play to the strength of Duke guard Trajan Langdon, one of the college game's best pure shooters. Langdon scored 24 points in Friday's 78-61 semifinal win over Southwest Missouri State, hitting four three-pointers as he took advantage of the Bears' strategy of containing Brand.
"They're not going to give up open looks," Langdon said of Temple. "We might have to make seven or eight passes just to get an open look."
Said Brand, of the game plan to limit his effectiveness: "I'm very confident with whoever is out on the perimeter for us. They're great players, and they'll get it done."
And Brand said he will be physically ready to get it done despite wearing heavy tape on his left wrist, which he jammed in a first-half fall against Southwest Missouri State. Chaney yesterday compared brand to New York Knicks forward Larry Johnson.
"He plays basketball as well as I've ever seen a strong forward play," Chaney said of Brand. "Watching him play under the basket with those long arms, that great balance, he's almost like a professional at this level."
In fact, Chaney and his players tried to paint Duke as almost being like a professional team.
"I don't think there's another team in the country that I've seen in recent years that has the ability of Duke," Chaney said. "I've never seen a team that could go to the bench and get an apple for an apple. We go to the bench, we might take an apple off and put a lemon in."
Krzyzewski laughed when that comment was relayed to him, with the questioner suggesting that his second unit could be an NCAA tournament team.
"You can tell [comedian Bill] Cosby's been around giving him [Chaney] a few jokes for his press conferences," Krzyzewski said of Cosby, a Temple graduate who was at the arena yesterday.
"We only have nine scholarship players," Krzyzewski added. "We create the impression we have waves. Last year we were more 'wavy'; we had 11 guys and substituted more. This year we're more solid, and we're deep."
Solid, deep and heavily favored to get Krzyzewski to his eighth Final Four, although Temple is hoping to get its coach to his first.
"If it happens, great," Chaney said. "What a great feeling it would be. I'd have all the peanut butter I wanted my whole life and I'd have the bicycle I never got. It would be a very happy day.
"But if I don't get there before I retire, I know I'll have some smidgen of success and I'll feel good about the men I've dealt with here."