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Legendary Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson predicts Coach K's Duke farewell tour ends Saturday

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SAN FRANCISCO – Nolan Richardson, the Hall of Fame basketball coach who led the Arkansas Razorbacks to the 1994 national title, has a prediction about Mike Krzyzewski’s farewell tour.

It’s going to end on Saturday, at the Chase Center in the Elite Eight.

That’s when fourth-seeded Arkansas plays the second-seeded Duke Blue Devils, who are trying to get to the Final Four and keep alive their coach’s legendary career, with Krzyzewski set to retire at the end of the season.

“When you look at it with the eye test, when they both (teams) play to their potentials, I think the Razorbacks are three, four, five points better at this point, hopefully because of maturity,’’ Richardson said Friday during a phone interview from his home in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

He also noted he predicted Arkansas would beat top-seeded Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 before the Razorbacks did just that Thursday with a 74-68 victory. Duke outlasted Texas Tech, 78-73.

Richardson, 80, clearly is relishing the Arkansas-Duke matchup. In 1994, his Razorbacks beat Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils, 76-72, in the national championship game.

Nolan Richardson and Arkansas beat Duke for the national title in 1994.
Nolan Richardson and Arkansas beat Duke for the national title in 1994.

“Oh, what a great feeling to wake up in the morning and knowing that your team has got a chance to get to the Final Four and they have to get through Duke to get there and vice versa,’’ he said. “That has come full (circle).’’

Now led by head coach Eric Musselman, the Razorbacks are looking to return to the Final Four for the first time since Richardson led the program there in 1995.

The legendary coach praised the current Razorbacks.

“I’ve always loved the team, their makeup,’’ said Richardson, whose 17-year tenure at Arkansas ended in 2002. “I love a team that’ll hang their hats on their defense. They’ve done that. And their leadership has gotten better each and every ballgame.’’

Richardson said he has been unable to watch the Razorbacks in person because his wife has been ill and because of the coronavirus pandemic. But he said he has watched all of the games on TV and from time to time talked by phone with Musselman.

“To let him know he’s done a phenomenal job,’’ Richardson said. “And hopefully he can continue to get their team where I know he would love to go and want to be, and that’s basically at the Final Four.

“Then you just throw up the quarter and see where it lands. Because anybody that gets that far, it could be anybody’s game.’’

Richardson, who led Arkansas to the Final Four three times, noted Krzyzewski has gotten Duke there 12 times.

“It should be named Krzyzewski’s Final Four,’’ he said. “Coach K is one of the premier coaches of the land. I see Coach K in that category with John Wooden.’’

But he also sees something else – Krzyzewski, on Saturday, coaching his last game.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coach K career ends Saturday, says Nolan Richardson, ex-Arkansas coach