Duke sputters bit, but bounces USC

Trojans push issue, but fall short, 79-69

NCAA Tournament

March 25, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

PHILADEPHIA - Duke didn't play a classic game last night, which the Blue Devils had done in winning here in the NCAA East Regional nine years ago before moving on to Minneapolis for their second straight national championship.

Southern California didn't bring out the best in Duke at the First Union Center.

Maybe Maryland will - or vice versa - when the most competitive current rivalry in college basketball is renewed for the fourth time this season Saturday at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. That's where top-seeded Duke will be headed after beating the sixth-seeded Trojans, 79-69.

The Blue Devils will play the Terrapins, who upset top-seeded Stanford in the West Regional earlier in the day. The winners of the remaining two regional finals - between Illinois and Arizona, the top two seeds in the Midwest, and top-seeded Michigan State against No. 11 seed Temple in the South - will meet in the other semifinal.

Each of the three games this season between Maryland and Duke have been better than the one before. The last game - won in the waning seconds on a tip-in by Nate James - might have been the best game played this season.

And what about the fourth?

"Just as good as the other three, but on a world-wide stage," said Duke All-American Shane Battier. "Both teams are confident. They think they can beat us and we think we can beat them. All three games have been played at a very high level."

Last night's game here didn't come close. Duke (33-4) played in fits and starts before comfortably distancing itself with about five minutes left and then finally putting away another team from the Pac-10. This time, the Blue Devils didn't just do it with their two-headed monster.

While Jason Williams finished with 28 points and was named the region's Most Outstanding Player, and Battier scored 20, freshman guard Chris Duhon (13 points) hit some big shots down the stretch to help Duke (33-4) advance to its ninth Final Four in the last 16 years under Mike Krzyzewski.

"By no stretch of the imagination is this a two-person team," said Battier, who also pulled down 10 rebounds while making three blocks and three steals. "We have great, talented players on this team and we have all the confidence in the world in them. They've been very successful at what opponents give them."

What they gave Duhon were plenty of open jump shots. USC coaches could be heard telling their players to dare Duhon to shoot, and double-down inside on Battier and Carlos Boozer. The fast-developing Duhon, who moved into the starting lineup when Boozer went out with a broken foot, delivered.

After USC forward Sam Clancy had cut what had been a 12-point Duke lead in the first half to 48-45 early in the second half, Duhon followed a three-point shot by Williams with one of his own from the top of the key. He would hit two more threes to keep the Trojans out of upset range.

The Trojans (24-10) finished with four players in double figures -- Clancy led USC with 19 points and 11 rebounds, while forward David Bluthenthal finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds - but Duke's defense held them to 26 of 64 shooting and out-rebounded their brawnier opponent by one (38-37).

"We beat a veteran team," said Krzyzewski, now 9-1 in regional finals. "They scared the heck out of me. I thought there were two aspects that we needed to control. Rebound with them, and we won the battle and pressure the ball on the perimeter, and they didn't get a good look at us on the inside."

USC's strategy was simple: stop Battier and Williams.

"We felt that two players could beat you on the team and that was Battier and Williams," said USC coach Henry Bibby. "You play with statistics. We went with percentages of Duhon making some big shots. He's a big-time college player, he's on the No. 1 team in the country. He should be able to make one or two shots here or there and he did."

Asked what Duke's 6-0 run did to USC's collective psyche, senior center Brian Scalabrine said: "That's going to hurt you. We have game plans and sometimes we deviated from that game plan and they came up with big plays. They're a good team. Three [point deficit] becoming nine in two possessions and it's hard to come back."

Duhon said that the Trojans probably didn't know he was the three-point shooting champion at last year's McDonald's All-American game. But he was aware of USC's strategy, since Trojans point guard Brandon Granville was never near him.

"The guy that was guarding me kept leaving me, and it was like, `I dare you to shoot,' " said Duhon. "Once I hit that first one I had a lot of confidence flowing through my blood and my teammates kept kicking the ball to me and I kept letting them go."

Duhon's hot shooting overcame a second half in which Williams made only 4 of 13 shots and Battier missed 7 of 8. Duhon wasn't the only Blue Devil to pick up the slack, with sophomore forward Mike Dunleavy pitching in 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting.

It will be the kind of balance that the Blue Devils will need to beat Maryland in Minneapolis. Not that Duke has given much thought yet to its next opponent. In fact, Krzyzewski scoffed at the idea that any of his players even knew that the Terrapins had won shortly before Duke took the court here.

"We're happy for Maryland, but these kids are not listening to scores," said Krzyzewski. "Were happy for our conference. If anyone even heard the score, they're running sprints tomorrow. You don't worry about what people are doing. Otherwise you'll be watching the tournament instead of playing in it."

At least a couple of Duke players admitted later that they were aware of what happened in Anaheim yesterday.

Wind sprints begin this morning in Durham, along with the rest of the preparation for the fourth game in what has been college basketball's most competitive rivalry this season.

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