Duke's duo proves dynamic, 94-81

Hopeful Missouri dashed when Williams, Battier combine for 58 points

March 18, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Top-seeded Duke opened the door for ninth-seeded Missouri several times in yesterday's second-round game of the NCAA tournament East Regional at Greensboro Coliseum. It took All-Americans Jason Williams and Shane Battier to finally slam it shut.

After the Tigers built a lead and some confidence early in the game, after Duke's own 15-point lead late in the first half was cut to six at halftime and to one with 10 1/2 minutes left, the Blue Devils turned to Williams and Battier.

The sophomore guard and the senior forward showed why they weren't just the two best players on the court, but also two of the best in the country. By the time they finished chewing up the Tigers, Williams and Battier had combined for 58 points in Duke's 94-81 victory.

"That's a tough combo to stop," said Missouri guard Brian Grawer. "You try to stop one and the other will beat you."

The win -- the seventh straight for the Blue Devils since losing center Carlos Boozer to a broken foot -- put Duke (31-4) into the East Regional semifinals Thursday in Philadelphia. Boozer could be ready when the Blue Devils meet fourth-seeded UCLA at the First Union Center.

"When they get Boozer back, that will give them another option," Grawer said. "Not that they need any more than they have already."

Williams, who finished with 31 points on 11-for-20 shooting and had nine assists, might be the first player in recent memory to be the best on his team but not chosen national Player of the Year. That's because he is a sophomore and is comfortable letting Battier take most of the accolades.

And Battier, who wound up with 27 points and 11 rebounds, might be the most dangerous No. 2 scoring option in the country. Their productivity more than offset the 29 points scored by Missouri forward Kareem Rush and the 16 points and five assists from Tigers guard Clarence Gilbert.

"They're great people," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of his two stars. "They identify with the team and they're secure. Most of the problems you have with a team or a group of people comes from insecurity and jealousy. They know they're not bigger than the program. They co-exist at high levels."

Not that they are always so polite to one another. Midway through the first half, Williams took a look at the scoreboard and saw that Battier only had three points while Missouri (20-13) had taken early leads of 16-10 and 19-16. Needless to say that some of the words Williams used weren't, uh, Duke-ish.

"I told him he had to be more aggressive," said Williams, who didn't deny motivating Battier with an expletive or two.

Battier immediately took a three-pointer and missed, but a couple of minutes later hit a three to start a run of 14 straight points that helped Duke build a 43-28 lead with a little under two minutes left in the first half. Williams scored 10 points in that run; Battier, nine.

After Missouri closed the half with three straight three-pointers -- the last two by Rush -- and cut its deficit to 63-62 on another three by Rush with 10:32 remaining in the game, Duke took control. The Blue Devils put Battier at center and used Williams, freshman Chris Duhon and senior Nate James at guard.

"When they went small and spread the floor, Jason and Shane took the game over," said Missouri coach Quin Snyder, a former Duke point guard and assistant under Krzyzewski.

Instead of beating teams with their three-point shooting, the Blue Devils drove almost at will. Mostly it was Williams getting past Grawer or freshman point guard Wesley Stokes for layups or kick-out passes to open shooters. Or he'd fake inside and hit someone cutting to the basket.

The result was a 13-4 run that began with Battier driving past Missouri center Tajudeen Soyoye and ending with Williams throwing a perfect pass to James for a dunk. The left ankle that Williams turned in the ACC tournament final against North Carolina a week ago was barely noticeable.

"There was a little pain, but I'll get back to Durham and get some treatment," said Williams, who seemed to limp through the last couple of minutes after his leg got tangled up with a Missouri player. "It'll even feel better next week."

That's a scary thought.

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