Duke has firm grasp on national crown

Hopes high for 2002, despite losing Battier, possibly Williams

April 04, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS - After he'd coached Duke to its third national championship Monday night, Mike Krzyzewski rejected the notion that Shane Battier's departure - and the possibility of Jason Williams leaving early - marked an end of an era for the Blue Devils' program, which had been in two Final Fours in the past three years.

"Our program is not an era program," said Krzyzewski, whose team got 18 second-half points from Mike Dunleavy Jr. to beat Arizona, 82-72. "We've been pretty good year after year. I don't know. I think we'll be pretty good next year."

Being pretty good means not ending a season until this time next year, which has been the expectation at Duke since Krzyzewski first took the program to the Final Four in 1986 and repeated the feat in five of the next six years after that on the way to a tally of nine Final Fours and three national titles in the past 16 seasons.

"Whatever Coach K works with, you know they'll be successful," Arizona forward Michael Wright said after the loss. "Their courage and heart is so pure. ... Between the two comebacks against Maryland, it shows a lot."

Duke loses Battier, its do-everything forward who not only earned National Player of the Year honors, but also picked up the Most Outstanding Player award for the NCAA tournament. He played 40 minutes and had 11 rebounds, six assists and two blocks to go along with 18 points to beat Arizona.

As the Wildcats closed in late, Battier closed it out for Duke, scoring six straight points to keep his team's lead safe in the final minutes. It's an instinctive quality that the Blue Devils must learn to do without.

"The one consistent thing," Arizona coach Lute Olson said, "is that Shane Battier is going to have a great game because he just makes things happen."

With Battier gone, the major question facing Duke is how to keep Williams around. The sophomore guard is one of the top offensive players in the college game and would be considered a top-three pick if he were to enter the NBA draft.

Williams has maintained that he will play his games at Duke's Durham, N.C., campus next season, not a big-city arena. But when he was asked what his role might be on the Duke team next season - presumably the role of leader with Battier gone - he said, "Next year's a new year. I'll find my role when the time comes."

Williams' teammates expect him to return. Even if he doesn't, there's a reasonable expectation that Duke will be at the Final Four in Atlanta next season in part because of some new faces coming in.

Daniel Ewing, a 6-foot-3 guard from Texas, is considered a player who can contribute for the Blue Devils in his freshman year, presumably taking Williams' place alongside Chris Duhon. Nick Horvath, a talented 6-10 forward who was a redshirt this season, should also be a major factor.

"Right now, we're not giving that much thought," Duke center Casey Sanders said about next year. "We'll definitely have some players."

The point driven home last weekend, though available for consumption all season long, concerned the quality of the Duke lineup beyond Williams and Battier. Maryland and Michigan State vied for the honor of having the best one-through-10 lineup in the country, while Arizona supposedly had the best starting five.

The Blue Devils, however, developed what was probably the best seven-man rotation in the country. Against Maryland, Sanders, Carlos Boozer and Nate James (another senior who will depart), played major roles in the team's comeback from a 22-point first-half deficit against Maryland.

Against Arizona, Dunleavy knocked down three three-pointers in 45 seconds.

"Phenomenal basketball player," Battier said of Dunleavy. "People talk about Jason and myself, but we believe Mike is just as good as us."

As much as anything, Duke's return to the Final Four will depend on the retention of the intangibles that Wright mentioned above, ones that made Krzyzewski call this team "as tough as any" he's coached, playing mostly sophomores and freshmen.

"Hopefully, we'll come close to having the camaraderie we had this year and the leadership," he said. "But you know, we'll be ... very good again."

RATINGS: A tight title game between preseason contenders from opposite coasts helped the NCAA men's tournament stem its recent TV ratings slide. CBS Sports' broadcast of Duke's victory over Arizona on Monday night drew a 15.6 national rating.

The good news for the network is that it's a 10.5 percent increase over last year's record low. The bad news: Monday's rating still ranks as the second lowest since at least 1975, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The 2 1/2 -week tournament finished with an average rating of 6.5, up slightly from 2000's 6.4, the low mark in the 20 years CBS has televised the event.

Ratings were off 3 percent, meanwhile, for the women's championship, in which Notre Dame edged Purdue, 68-66, Sunday night on ESPN. That game drew a 3.3 cable rating. The women's semifinal games, though, were up 24 percent.

VIOLENCE: Tucson police fired stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse University of Arizona fans who overturned vehicles and set at least three on fire Monday night after the Wildcats' loss to Duke.

Seventeen people were arrested, at least seven of them students.

Several people were hit by the rubber bullets, and 10 required medical attention.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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