MINNEAPOLIS -- The Duke Blue Devils did their part. History can decide the rest.
The Blue Devils, driven by a seemingly endless supply of emotion, won their second straight NCAA basketball championship last night when they defeated Michigan, 71-51, in the Metrodome.
Not since UCLA's streak of seven straight national titles ended with the 1973 championship has a team won consecutive crowns. But the Blue Devils, on top every day of this long and unforgettable season, became the seventh team in history to win back-to-back championships.
"To be ranked No. 1 all year and to do all the things [our guys did], they were the best and they deserved it," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
It came the hard way, but that was typical of Duke in the tournament. It won as much on will as on talent, as much on toughness as execution.
But that made it all the sweeter when it became official late last night. All you had to see was the emotion on Krzyzewski's face when Antonio Lang dunked the Blue Devils ever so close to their championship in the final 90 seconds. It was the look of a man -- fists clenched, head bowed -- savoring a season for all time.
This championship, preordained in some minds, was earned on a night when Christian Laettner turned into his own evil twin for one half and Brian Davis played through stabbing pain in his sprained left ankle.
But the Blue Devils, as they did all season, found what they needed at precisely the right time. That meant finding Grant Hill to slither along the baseline for critical baskets, and pulling Laettner out of his mysterious first-half funk in time to carry the team.
It all culminated in the final seven minutes when the Blue Devils finally shook off the young Wolverines and the burdens of an entire season. What had been a close game -- Duke led 48-45 when it called timeout with 6:51 remaining -- became the fourth-largest margin of victory in a championship game.
"We were there to take away the crown, but it didn't happen," Michigan coach Steve Fisher said.
It didn't happen because Laettner lit the fuse, Bobby Hurley fed it and the Hills -- Grant and Thomas -- turned it into an inferno.
The game changed subtly in the first minute of the second half. Until that time, Laettner had been playing through something his buddy Stephen King might have dreamed up. He made seven turnovers in the first half, five of which led directly to Michigan layups. He scored just five points and Duke was searching for its center.
"I was obviously frustrated," said Laettner who scored a game-high 19 points despite being smothered by Michigan's Juwan Howard, Chris Webber and Eric Riley much of the time.
But on Duke's first possession, Hurley (the tournament's most outstanding player) shoveled a tight pass to Laettner for a layup that gave Duke a 32-31 lead. Seconds later, Duke called Laettner's number for a three-pointer and he drained it. The feel of the game changed dramatically.
"I'm glad Christian kind of snapped out of it in the second half," Hurley said. "Personally, I was running on empty. I'm glad he stepped up."
"You can't keep a good man down forever," Fisher said.
The Blue Devils fed off Laettner's awakening. Though they went 9:15 with just one basket during the second half, Duke held back the Wolverines.
Michigan point guard Jalen Rose picked up his fourth foul with 12:45left, and Webber got his at 5:17. That signaled the beginning of the end for Michigan, which scored 20 in the second half.
Duke, which made two second-half turnovers after 12 in the first half, drove it home with Grant Hill, who finished with 18 points. He had found a seam along the Michigan baseline late in the first half just as the Duke scouting report had promised. Then he abused it late in the game when Duke could smell a repeat. Laettner's reverse layup put Duke ahead 50-45, then Hill blew down the baseline and came up on the far side of the basket for a 52-47 Duke lead.
If Michigan had any hope of saving its remarkable season, it vanished when Hill took the baseline one more time. With the shot clock winding down, he soared under the basket and shoved through a reverse dunk that said everything that needed to be said.
The way Duke did it, grinding past Seton Hall and Kentucky then through the Final Four, gave it all a golden glow to Krzyzewski.
"That makes me feel even better. It's like we deserve it."