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Mike Krzyzewski, Steve Fisher share a long history

Then-Michigan coach Steve Fisher, left, and Duke coach

Then-Michigan coach Steve Fisher, left, and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski chat before a television interview in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on April 5, 1992. Credit: AP / Ed Reinke

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - You could call Sunday afternoon's NCAA Tournament third-round game between top-seeded Duke and eighth-seeded San Diego State a reunion of sorts for coaching veterans Mike Krzyzewski and Steve Fisher.

They downplayed it because it has no relevance to their current teams, but Krzyzewski won the second of his four national titles in 1992 against Michigan's "Fab Five" coached by Fisher.

Aztecs forward JJ O'Brien said Fisher's players all know about it, though they haven't asked their 70-year-old coach too many questions.

"They just had the documentary on Christian Laettner," O'Brien said, referring to the former Duke star who led the Blue Devils to their second straight title in 1992. "It's history, and if you're a basketball guy, you know about it."

Last season, San Diego State (27-8) scored a major upset at Kansas, and O'Brien said this opportunity to face Duke (30-4) represents the biggest chance to build a national reputation for Fisher's program, which is making its sixth straight NCAA appearance and advanced with a second-round win over St. John's.

"There's no question that Duke is one of the elite, and that's where most of us aspire to get," Fisher said. "We think we can win, and probably most people in the country will not think that could happen. But we're coming in to play as hard as we can if we can make shots. If you've followed us, underline 'if.' [Against St. John's], we made them. We need to do the same against Duke.

"A year ago when we went into Kansas and Allen Fieldhouse and won there, a lot of people said they couldn't do that. But we did. So we want to continue to grow who we are, and this would be a huge opportunity."

Duke's players were impressed with the size, rebounding and defensive ability the Aztecs showed in their 76-64 win over the Red Storm, which lost a nine-point decision to the Blue Devils in midseason at Madison Square Garden. "They won some big-time games, especially last night against St. John's," Duke guard Quinn Cook said. "We struggled with those St. John's guys, and they were up the whole game. We definitely respect those guys."

Krzyzewski said his friendship with Fisher precedes the 1992 title game. "He's built a great program," Krzyzewski said. "We're not going to face an outstanding team; we're going to face an outstanding program. His first year there was difficult. Since then, he's brought in great kids who play the game the right way. This team is no exception. It will be a difficult game."

Blue Devils freshman forward Jahlil Okafor, who is a contender for the No. 1 NBA draft pick, can't expect to dominate inside easily against a San Diego State front line that includes 6-10 Skylar Spencer and 6-8 Winston Shepard. The 6-7 O'Brien is a muscular sort who also can mix it up inside at both ends of the floor.

Whatever the outcome, it will just be another chapter in the long friendship between Fisher and Krzyzewski. Fisher recalled how Coach K didn't snub assistants at scouting events and always went out of his way to sit and talk with them.

"When I got the job at San Diego State," Fisher said, "I got a telegram from Mike Krzyzewski: 'Welcome back.' People don't do that. He does it."

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