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November 29, 2013

Top-10 programs Arizona, Duke meet for preseason NIT title

The dream NIT Season Tip-Off championship game Friday in New York City was nearly spoiled - twice.

Fourth-ranked Arizona rallied from a 19-point deficit while No. 6 Duke led by just six with less than three minutes to play in Wednesday night's semifinals. Alas, the Wildcats (6-0) received a big second half from Kaleb Tarczewski to squeak past Drexel, 66-62, and the Blue Devils (6-1) pulled away at the free-throw line to top Alabama, 74-64.

It will be the programs' first meeting since Derrick Williams' monster performance helped fifth-seeded UA knock off Kyrie Irving and top-seeded Duke in the Sweet 16 in 2011. The head-to-head series also includes the 2001 national championship the Blue Devil won over the Wildcats.

Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. MT at Madison Square Garden.

"Arizona is probably ahead of some other teams," said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose team advanced despite shooting a season-low 43.1 percent and committing a season-high 19 turnovers. "Arizona, Michigan State, because they have guys who have played prominent roles, back.

"Over the years, we have always played really difficult schedules and this year is no different. I'm just glad we have an opportunity to play for a championship."

But this year's meeting includes another installment in a season dubbed "The Year of the Freshman."

Jabari Parker and Duke already lost one hyped contest to Andrew Wiggins and then-No. 5 Kansas, 94-83, in the Champions Classic more than two weeks ago. The national stage in Chicago was shared by Julius Randle and Kentucky, too.

Now, the spotlight will shine on Parker and Arizona forward Aaron Gordon, who has a double-double in four of his first six collegiate games.

But UA head coach Sean Miller has been agitated by questions about the individual match-up, as well as what was once just a potential meeting with Duke, since the days leading up to the week.

Parker is averaging 23.6 points - 15th in the nation - on 60 percent shooting and 8.7 rebounds to Gordon's 12.5 points and 9.7 rebounds.

"I'm not going to get into that," Miller said after the win over Drexel, but before Duke had advanced. "We came into here to have an opportunity to play in a big tournament.

"This is an honor for our program to be here. We won this tournament in this program, and our fans, our players, we all come here and hope to have a chance to win the championship. We hope to enjoy Thanksgiving and be a better team on Friday."

Parker, who is the first freshman since Kevin Durant in 2006 to score at least 20 points in each of his first seven games, is more concerned with winning the Blue Devils' fifth championship and 15th consecutive game in the event. Arizona has won the crown three times and has an opportunity to match Duke.

"Getting the 'W' is most important," Parker said. "I have my own aspirations and my own dreams about playing here. The team goal is just getting the win and that's all that matters and that's my mindset."

Miller, meanwhile, is more concerned with his team playing together for a complete 40 minutes - something that has been an issue each of the past two games.

The Wildcats did not record a single assist in the first half against Drexel and had similar early lulls in the offense 10 days ago against Rhode Island.

"It's hard to play basketball and have zero assists at the half," Miller said.

"And if you look at our second half, we had eight, so we shared the ball a lot more in the second half. And I hope that that‑‑ playing together is always the right recipe, because part of why we had 20 at the half, and 46 the second half, is we were much more willing to share the ball and pass it.

"No team is going to function at the highest level when the individual is trying to make plays."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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