It'll be Coach K vs. Coach K in Sweet 16
HOUSTON — Coach K vs. Coach K.
When Utah's Larry Krystkowiak sat down on the podium Thursday, he introduced himself before taking questions. Then he was asked why he didn't just say Coach K, as his players refer to him.
"Could be confusing in this situation," Krystkowiak said.
Yes, it could with this NCAA Sweet 16 matchup.
Krystkowiak's fifth-seeded Utes (26-8) play tonight against the more well-known Coach K, four-time national champion Mike Krzyzewski and top-seeded Duke (31-4) in the South Regional.
This is Duke's 22nd Sweet 16 appearance under Krzyzewski, the only men's Division I coach who has won more than 1,000 games.
Krystkowiak has 110 career wins, 68 in four seasons at Utah, which is in Sweet 16 for the first time in 10 years.
The longest conversation between the coaches with Polish heritage has been the 20 minutes Krystkowiak spent as a guest on the Duke coach's weekly satellite radio show earlier this year.
Krzyzewski doesn't even recall meeting Krystkowiak in a 7-Eleven in Las Vegas last summer, when the Utah coach proclaimed, "There's the real Coach K" and gave him a high-five. But the Duke coach hopes that isn't viewed as a slight.
"I would never dis another Polish-American. We'd probably give our secret handshake," Krzyzewski said. "I admire what Larry's done. ... He took over a program where it had to rebuilt, but has had great tradition."
Utah's only NCAA national title came seven decades ago, in 1944. But the Utes have been to the Sweet 16 at least once every decade since.
The Blue Devils have won four national titles since 1991, the last coming five years ago — when they were also the No. 1 seed in the South Regional, and the Sweet 16 and regional final games were played at NRG Stadium, the home of the NFL's Houston Texans.
No. 2 seed Gonzaga (34-2) plays No. 11 UCLA (22-13) in the first game tonight. That means Sunday's regional final will have matchup of a Coach K vs. Mark Few or Steve Alford.
Krystkowiak, a former NBA player and coach, coached for two seasons at Montana, where he was a three-time Big Sky Conference MVP as a player, before taking the Utah job in 2011. With a decimated roster his first season, the Utes went 6-25 and had a losing record at home for the first time in 39 years.
With 11 new players the next year, they improved to 15-18, then 21-12 last year. Now they are the No. 5 seed with an at-large bid out of the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournament wins over Stephen F. Austin and Georgetown.
"Certainly I'm not predicting the future that we're going to turn Utah into Duke," Krystkowiak said. "But (Krzyzewski) reminded me that when he first started at Duke, it wasn't all roses and went through a period of about three, four years where there were questions about what was going on there."
Certainly anyone watching the NCAA Tournament knows about the Coach K who has been at Duke since 1980.
What about the coach Utah players refer to the same way?
"Just a fun guy to be around. Really energetic," junior forward Jordan Loveridge said. "Great coach, great guy off the floor. He just tells you how it is. He's not beating around the bush."
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WELCOME HOME: Thursday was the 19th birthday for Duke freshman Justise Winslow, who is from Houston. A group in the stands started singing "Happy Birthday!" to Winslow when the Blue Devils held their open practice at the stadium.
"At the end of the day, it's a business trip for Duke, about getting two wins," said Winslow, one of Duke's three freshman starters. "I'm very focused on what this teams needs to accomplish."
Winslow's father, Rickie, played at Houston and was a member of the famed Phi Slama Jama with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler that made it to NCAA Final Four multiple times, but never won.
RELIGIOUS CONVERSION: Krystkowiak was asked if he had been back to Houston since his NBA days.
"We drove by the church which used to be where we played," he said. "That changed a little bit from the outside. Just drove by that on the freeway. But other than that I haven't been back."
What used to be the Compaq Center and home of the Houston Rockets is now Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church.
BEEN HERE BEFORE: When Duke won its last national championship in 2010, the Blue Devils were also the No. 1 seed in the South Regional, beating Purdue and Baylor in the Houston Texan's stadium to get to the Final Four.
Their only other NCAA Tournament games in Houston were in 1985, when they beat Pepperdine in a first-round game before losing to Boston College.