Duke shines because stars light it up

April 01, 2001|By MIKE PRESTON

MINNEAPOLIS -- The great players take their games to another level when championships are on the line, and that was the major difference between Duke and Maryland last night in an NCAA Final Four game at the Metrodome.

It wasn't any difference between Maryland coach Gary Williams and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. Or any hot vs. cold strategy. Duke has two great players in forward Shane Battier and guard Jason Williams. Maryland has a bunch of good players, great depth, but no one yet in the caliber of either Battier or Williams.

It's that simple.

Once Duke realized the sense of urgency needed after falling behind by as many as 22 points with about seven minutes left in the first half, there was nothing Gary Williams or the Terps could do in the second half to stop the two great players who led Duke to a 95-84 victory.

"This team has a lot of heart," Krzyzewski said. "It's the youngest team outside of `Old Man' [Battier] over here. We're a real young team, so we're prone to getting nervous. But it's the heart of this team, and I think one of the biggest hearts I've coached is Jason Williams. He put us on his back for a while there in the second half."

When it came down to crunch time, Williams was the hot man on the offensive end of the floor, and Battier played well at both ends. Meanwhile, Maryland didn't get much production from the two players who had carried them the most in this tournament, guard Juan Dixon and center Lonny Baxter.

Baxter was 0-for-4 from the floor in the second half, fouled out with 2:48 left in the game and finished with only 10 points. Dixon had 16 points in the first half, but only three in the second, when he was 1-for-8 from the floor and bothered by some physical defense from senior forward Nate James.

That's not to put the entire blame on Dixon or Baxter, because that would be unfair, just as it would be to be critical of Gary Williams. Maryland had a great run, and the future looks bright with players such as Dixon, Baxter, Steve Blake, Byron Mouton and Chris Wilcox returning next season.

But Battier and Jason Williams were simply the best two players on the floor last night. Both started slowly in the first half, Battier 3-for-8 with 10 points and Williams 1-for-7 with four, but they dominated in the second.

Krzyzewski said the Blue Devils were too concerned about calling plays in the first half instead of getting a natural feel for the game. Basically, in the second half, the Blue Devils wanted to rely more on instincts. The bottom line was that Jason Williams and Battier needed to take control of the game.

Cut out the pattern offense and take Maryland off the dribble. While the Terps were concerned about shutting off Duke's three-point shooters, Jason Williams was blowing by the Terps at the top of the key.

Duke had cut Maryland's lead to 49-38 at the half, and all of the 45,406 fans inside the dome knew Duke had to make a run early in the second half to climb back into the game.

Enter Jason Williams and Battier.

Battier scored Duke's first five points of the second half, and then converted on two foul shots with 17:44 left in the game to cut Maryland's lead to 54-50.

Then, Jason Williams took control, scoring seven straight points and a three-point shot to give Duke its first lead, 73-72, with 6:48 remaining. The Terps had no one who could shut off Williams' penetration, not Blake, Drew Nicholas or even Dixon.

Williams showed no fear of challenging Maryland's big men, who were hampered by foul trouble. (Coach K's intimidation worked on the refs again.) Forward Terence Morris, in foul trouble, missed most of the second half, and Baxter, as well as reserve center Tahj Holden, also had limited playing time because of fouls.

Battier, though, helped turn this game around with two huge blocks, one on a short layup attempt by Baxter with 15:03 left in the game, which turned into a Williams layup on the other end, and another on Baxter inside the paint with 13:53 remaining.

The nation's player of the year was one of the players of the game.

"Nobody's better than 22 [points] on Duke," said Gary Williams. "I knew they'd make a run. I thought we had enough to sustain it. We got into some foul trouble. They did a great job of coming out and denying the passing lanes, which disrupted our offense. We had a chance to put the ball in the basket a couple of times and we didn't do it. And when it gets close like that, you have to take advantage of our opportunities, and we didn't do that.

"Duke made a couple of shots. I really thought they played aggressively in the second half and it paid off for them."

Battier and Jason Williams. Jason Williams and Battier. It's a lethal 1-2 punch, which has carried the Blue Devils through tournament wins against Monmouth, Missouri, UCLA, USC and Maryland.

It may be too much for Arizona in the championship game tomorrow.

"Today, it really hurts," Gary Williams said about the loss. "I give Duke all the credit to battle back like they did. They have a couple of great players that are really tough in tough situations, and they won the game."

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