Neophyte X-men too new to have any fear of Duke

Xavier's first trip to Elite Eight pits it against team in 17th final

Ncaa Regional Atlanta

March 28, 2004|By Marlen Garcia | Marlen Garcia,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

ATLANTA - The questions regarding Duke's mystique and its venerable tradition in the NCAA tournament came up yet again yesterday.

Illinois, which lost to Duke in the Atlanta Regional semifinal Friday, had answered the questions earlier in the week, and Xavier took its turn yesterday.

The seventh-seeded Musketeers (26-10) play top-seeded Duke (30-5) today at the Georgia Dome, with the victor advancing to the Final Four.

Xavier is in the Elite Eight for the first time.

Duke, a three-time NCAA champion, advanced for the 17th time and has made 13 Final Four appearances.

"I really don't think we're the underdogs," Xavier senior Anthony Myles said. "We belong here and we've proven ourselves in this tournament.

"We've beaten some big-name teams this year."

No victory was more impressive than Xavier's 20-point rout of previously unbeaten St. Joseph's in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament. This, after a 10-9 start.

The turning point in Xavier's season came after a 21-point loss Jan. 28 to George Washington. Senior guard Lionel Chalmers pitched a fit in the locker room, jarring the team.

"Emotionally I lost it," he recalled without elaborating on his comments.

"I've always been the type of guy who likes to simplify things," said Chalmers, who cussed out teammates, trashed lockers and challenged everyone to make something of a season on the brink. "I usually say what needs to be said, and not much more. But after that George Washington loss, I was real emotional. It was probably the worst loss I had been through at Xavier. It was time for that. I exploded."

But his words had an impact on his teammates.

"He said a few things and we took it all to heart," freshman Justin Doellman said.

The Musketeers lost their next game but played much better, losing by only seven at Dayton. They closed the regular season winning nine of 10, but were still in danger of missing the NCAAs.

Then came four straight wins in the Atlantic 10 tournament, which earned an automatic bid. Chalmers and senior guard Romain Sato have led Xavier in the NCAA tournament.

Sato scored 27 and Chalmers 14 in the Musketeers' 79-71 win over Texas on Friday.

Chalmers had 31 in the second round against Mississippi State and 25 against Louisville in the first round.

"If you look at the teams they have beaten in the tournament, they are some great teams," Duke guard J.J. Redick said.

The Blue Devils will need Redick's perimeter shooting to reach the Final Four for the first time since 2001, the last time they won an NCAA championship.

Redick hit three three-pointers and scored 17 against Illinois. Freshman Luol Deng led Duke with 18 points, scoring from the perimeter and the post.

Duke's Shelden Williams, a 6-foot-9 forward, will pose a matchup problem for Xavier, as he did for Illinois.

"You don't hear a lot about him, but he's probably one of the more underrated post players in the country," Xavier coach Thad Matta said.

The contributions of Redick and guard Daniel Ewing will be critical because Duke point guard Chris Duhon is playing with a rib injury. Despite the injury, Duhon played 36 minutes against Illinois.

Although he scored just four points, he grabbed 10 defensive rebounds and had eight assists.

"To me what was so amazing [Friday] was his endurance," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Chris is a very gifted athlete and even with the injury, he was still able to function at a high level."

As the only senior in the starting lineup, Duhon's presence is crucial for Duke. He is the only starter who played on the 2001 championship team.

"The past is really irrelevant," Krzyzewski said, downplaying Duke's Elite Eight experience over that of newcomer Xavier. "The fact that a program has done it before doesn't make any difference. It's the individuals on the court, the experiences they have.

"The fact that Duhon has been there before helps us because he has been a national champion.

"And these kids are trying to achieve something they haven't done yet, just like the Xavier kids are trying to achieve."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Today's game

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 7 Xavier

When: 5:05 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Records: Duke 30-5, Xavier 26-10.

How they got there: Duke defeated No. 16 Alabama State, 96-61; defeated No. 8 Seton Hall, 90-62; defeated No. 5 Illinois, 72-62; Xavier defeated No. 10 Louisville, 80-70; defeated No. 2 Mississippi State, 89-74; defeated No. 3 Texas, 79-71.

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