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Mike Krzyzewski couldn't hide his disappointment.

The Duke coach praised Kentucky, then talked about his appreciation for how well his team played, despite blowing a 17-point lead in the second half of Sunday's 86-84 loss in the NCAA South Regional final.

More than anything, though, he didn't want his players to feel they had failed him or themselves.

"This is a loss that hurts," Krzyzewski said.

Even before Sunday's game, Krzyzewski said he didn't believe his players had to make the Final Four to restore the Blue Devils' spot among the nation's elite.

The team stated its case by running roughshod through the Atlantic Coast Conference during the regular season, and Krzyzewski insisted beating Kentucky would have been gravy.

"I love my team," he said with seniors Roshown McLeod and Steve Wojciechowski sitting beside him. "I love them more after today. I thank God I had a chance to coach them . . . I'm a lucky guy."

Duke, playing in a regional final for the first time since 1994, built an early 18-point advantage before taking a 49-39 halftime lead. The Blue Devils led by 17 with just under 10 minutes left before Kentucky went on a 17-1 run.

Along the way, the Blue Devils lost their shooting touch -- from the foul line as well as the field -- and used up their allotment of timeouts. With the game on the line, freshmen took three of Duke's last five shots, including William Avery's desperation 30-footer that bounced off the backboard as time expired.

Krzyzewski didn't second-guess anything -- not McLeod calling the team's last timeout with 5:21 to go or his decision to put the ball in Avery's hand on the final possession with the more experienced Wojciechowski on the bench.

"It straps you," he said of the timeout situation, "but I don't fault our players for taking them. They kept us in the game. We might have been down by eight at the end if we didn't."

No one would have blamed the Duke coach for having a feeling of nostalgia when the Blue Devils, down two points, were inbounding the ball from beneath the Kentucky basket with 4.5 seconds to go.

Grant Hill threw a three-quarters-of-the-floor-length pass to Christian Laettner, who beat the Wildcats with a last-second shot in the East Region final six years ago.

"The thing we as a coaching staff have to do is get our guys to feel the pride, joy and fulfillment of a great year," Krzyzewski said.

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