PHILADELPHIA - UCLA had many answers for Duke last night. The Bruins put Dan Gadzurik on Shane Battier and the All-American forward had trouble shooting over the 6-11 center's long arms. The Blue Devils didn't go on any of their psyche-crushing, game-deciding runs.
Only one problem.
UCLA is still trying to figure out what to do with Jason Williams, something the Bruins will have to ponder until next season and something their Pac-10 neighbors, Southern Cal, will have to answer when the Trojans meet the Blue Devils tomorrow in the NCAA East Regional final.
Williams, the sophomore guard who is quickly proving himself to be the game's next big star, was at his best in the second half of last night's 76-63 victory at the First Union Center. He scored 19 straight points in one stretch and finished with 34.
The victory was the seventh straight for Duke (32-4), and puts the top-seeded Blue Devils one game away from returning to the Final Four for the second time in three years and for the ninth time under coach Mike Krzyzewski. They will meet sixth-seeded USC, which earlier upset second-seed Kentucky, 80-76.
Battier wasn't too shabby. Although his jumper wasn't falling, the senior captain and emotional leader of the Blue Devils managed to score 24. Senior guard Earl Watson led the Bruins with 15, but both he and Jason Kapono (12) played much of the second half in foul trouble.
UCLA (24-8) came out flat, and fell behind by as many as 11 points midway through the first half and by 12 early in the second half before making a run and cutting its deficit to three. But that was before Williams took over the game and took out the Bruins.
Williams did it as he usually does, with three-point shots and driving layups. Even when his scoring streak ended when Battier made a layup to put the Blue Devils ahead 61-51, it was because he got the ball from Williams after Battier's man had come out to double team.
Duke came out as it has in recent weeks, firing away with three-pointers. It hardly mattered that they missed their first six shots, all of them threes, because after scoring on its first possession, UCLA went over 6 1/2 minutes and 14 possessions between baskets.
In the interim, the Blue Devils started finding their range, and built a 12-2 lead. It was later 21-12 on a three-point play by Battier. Duke led by as many as 11 points, 31-20, on a pair of free throws by Battier with a little under a minute left in the first half.
The Bruins got a little of the momentum back right before halftime, when shooting guard Billy Knight made a three-pointer in the waning seconds to cut his team's deficit to seven, 33-26. But UCLA also went into its dressing room with Kapono in foul trouble, having picked up his fourth in the final minute.
The Blue Devils opened their lead to 10 early in the second half, at 38-28, but the Bruins closed to within three on a 7-0 run punctuated by Watson's three-pointer with a little under 15 minutes left. That's when Williams took over the game.
Starting with a three-pointer, the most electrifying player in the ACC and one of the most dynamic in the country scored on an alley-oop layup, a power drive , another three, another drive and two free throws that gave Duke its biggest lead, 55-43, with a little over 11 minutes left.
Watson cut the deficit to 10, and the Bruins had a chance to creep closer off a Duke turnover. But Kapono lost the grip on the ball and Williams dove to the floor, cradling the ball and calling a timeout before the Bruins had a chance to force a jump.
After another Duke turnover - a travel against freshman Chris Duhon - Watson scored in the lane for the Bruins. Just when it seemed as if the Bruins could make some noise, Williams was there to silence them with a driving layup.
Matt Barnes cut Duke's lead to six and then turned an errant pass by Williams - a lob high off the backboard - into another basket by Barnes. He was fouled, but missed the free throw to keep the deficit at six.
Williams took control of the situation again, scoring on yet another drive past Watson. The frustration with Williams started to build, and Barnes went after him when the teams tangled for a loose ball. It didn't stop the Duke star.