Duke vs. Connecticut

Alamodome, San Antonio 8:47 p.m. Chs. 13,9/WBAL (1090 AM) Line: Connecticut by 2

Ncaa Tournament

Final Four

April 03, 2004|By Don Markus

The teams

Duke (31-5)

The Blue Devils have seemingly recovered from their ACC tournament final loss to Maryland and weren't threatened in their first three NCAA tournament wins over Alabama State, Seton Hall or Illinois. Xavier showed some weaknesses that could be further exposed by Connecticut.

Connecticut (31-6)

The Huskies have been the most dominant team in the tournament, beating their four opponents (Vermont, DePaul, Vanderbilt and Alabama) by an average of 17.5 points. Connecticut has won seven straight and 13 of 14 overall, and appear to be the clear favorite to win it all. But the Huskies haven't played anyone as good as Duke.

Backcourts

Duke

Senior point guard Chris Duhon (9.9 ppg, 6.1 apg) hasn't been at full strength since bruising his ribs against the Terps, but he has played better as the tournament has gone on. Sophomore J.J. Redick (15.9 ppg) showed signs of emerging from a late-season shooting slump, but is 12-for-33 on threes in the past four games. The Blue Devils may need junior Daniel Ewing (12.7) to have a big night.

Connecticut

Junior Ben Gordon (18.5) scored 36 in the regional final win over Alabama and is the leading scorer left in the tournament (22.0). Senior Taliek Brown is coming off a 10-assist, one-turnover game against the Crimson Tide, and has been a solid, steadying influence. If Gordon goes off against the Blue Devils, it could be a long night for Duke.

Edge: Connecticut

Frontcourts

Duke

Sophomore center Shelden Williams (12.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg) has been in double-figure scoring in all four tournament games and has had two double-figure rebounding games as well. Freshman forward Luol Deng (15.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg) has emerged as the team's next star, and is coming off a MVP performance in the Atlanta Regional. Deng is starting to play like his idol, Grant Hill, did as a freshman in Duke's 1991 title run.

Connecticut

Junior All-America Emeka Okafor, despite playing with a stress fracture in his back, is still a force. Okafor (17.4 ppg, 11.6 rpg., 4.2 bpg) is still the leading rebounder in the tournament and is tied with Williams for blocked shots. Sophomore small forward Rashard Anderson is coming off a career-high 29 points in the Phoenix Regional final. Freshman Josh Boone (South Carroll) will be guarding Deng.

Edge: Even

Benches

Duke

The Blue Devils have basically been a seven-man team all season, with sophomore forward Shavlik Randolph (6.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg in 19.3 minutes a game) giving Duke another big body to contend with Connecticut's front line and sophomore guard Sean Dockery (3.1 ppg in 15.4 mpg) providing point guard Chris Duhon the opportunity to get a few minutes rest. Given the Huskies' size up front, senior Nick Horvath (1.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg) might get more than his usual minutes (6.4).

Connecticut

With starting center Emeka Okafor's back injury always a bump or a tweak away from becoming serious, freshman Charlie Villanueva (9.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg) could see more time (19.5 minutes) than usual. Calhoun has definitely shortened his bench since the tournament began. Sophomore forward Denhan Brown (9.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg) played 25 minutes in a second-round win over DePaul, but has played only 15 minutes the past two games. Sophomore center Hilton Armstrong will also get a look if Okafor, Boone or Villaneuva get into foul trouble.

Edge: Connecticut

Coaches

Duke

Mike Krzyzewski, 694-239 in 29th season overall and 24th at Duke

Krzyzewski has been to a Woodenesque 10 Final Fours in 19 years, including three national championships (1991, 1992, 2001) and could tie the legendary Dean Smith with his 65th NCAA tournament victory if the Blue Devils win tonight. Krzyzewski is a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Connecticut

Jim Calhoun, 678-302 in 32nd season overall and 18th at Connecticut

This is Calhoun's second appearance in the Final Four. His first ended with a stunning upset of Duke in the 1999 championship game in St. Petersburg, Fla. Calhoun, a candidate for nomination to the Hall of Fame, currently ranks 11th all time with 33 NCAA tournament victories.

Edge: Even

Keys to victory

Duke

Staying out of foul trouble, especially with Williams and Deng in the frontcourt. More offensive productivity from Duhon and better shooting from Redick.

Connecticut

Keeping Okafor on the floor, healthy. Getting shots for Gordon and Anderson.

Bottom line

Duke is rarely an underdog in these situations, and the fact that Connecticut is only a two-point favorite is out of respect for Krzyzewski's accomplishments. The Huskies, particularly the way they're playing, should have no trouble sending the Blue Devils home to Durham.

Connecticut, 78-68

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