GW vs. Duke couldn't wait

Today's matchup feels like Sweet 16

March 18, 2006|By PAUL MCMULLEN | PAUL MCMULLEN,SUN REPORTER

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Star power or balance?

One of the NCAA tournament's most compelling second-round matchups sends top-ranked Duke against George Washington in the Atlanta Regional today. It's J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams against a versatile rotation that includes players capable of guarding both the Blue Devils' three-point shooter and big man.

The Colonials are not a typical eighth seed, and this looks more like a Sweet 16 pairing than the third day of the tournament.

George Washington, No. 14 in the Associated Press poll, saw its NCAA stock drop when center Pops Mensah-Bonsu missed three weeks with a knee injury that required surgery. He played 27 minutes in Thursday's overtime win over North Carolina-Wilmington, and he was one of six Colonials to score in double figures.

Redick, the presumptive national Player of the Year, and Williams, the big man who figures to join him on the All-America team, combined for 22 of Duke's 24 field goals in its unimpressive first-rounder over Southern. None of their teammates made a basket in the second half.

Duke is favored to advance to its ninth straight Sweet 16, but both Redick and Williams will have to deal with defensive tag-teams that were best explained by Mike Hall. He said that 6-foot-9 Omar Williams, a fellow senior forward, would start out checking Redick, but pointed to other big, quick wings capable of anticipating or fighting through a screen.

"Omar here has the assignment to start out on him [Redick]," Hall said. "He's going to use his length and athleticism to force him to take difficult shots, but we've also got four or five people of the same body type who can switch out and guard him.

"I don't think they've played anybody thus far who can boast that or have that many interchangeable guys on their roster in the same sense that me, Omar, Pops and Alex [Kireev] can also guard Shelden. So I guess we match up well against them."

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski mentioned George Washington's "very unique perimeter." Take Hall, a 6-8, 230-pounder from Chicago, Krzyzewski's hometown. The Colonials' top rebounder, he's also made 38.2 percent of his three-pointers.

Redick, the NCAA record-holder for career three-pointers, has 132 this season. Hall is one of four Colonials who have made between 25 and 48.

The game could turn on the play of Duke's freshmen, point guard Greg Paulus and forward Josh McRoberts. George Washington overcame an 18-point deficit Thursday, because of some rugged full-court traps. If the officials don't allow the Colonials the contact they got away with against UNC-Wilmington, the Blue Devils could shoot 50 free throws.

Asked about a David-Goliath game, Krzyzewski said, "Do you believe in the Easter bunny and Santa Claus?" George Washington, however, would fulfill a fantasy if it were able to defeat a No. 1 team for the first time in more than a decade.

The Colonials played three regular-season games on national television, all on ESPN or ESPN2. At one point, the Blue Devils played eight straight on national TV, a byproduct of their profile and nonconference schedule. On Dec. 10, Redick scored a career-high 41 points against Texas on CBS. That night, the Colonials played at Morgan State.

George Washington, the Atlantic 10 regular-season champion, is coming off its first NCAA tournament win in 12 years. During that drought, Krzyzewski won 32 times in the tournament. Already the record-holder for NCAA tournament wins, Krzyzewski got his 67th Thursday. The Colonials' Karl Hobbs got his first, but he was involved in a landmark conquest of Duke.

Hobbs was an assistant at Connecticut in 1999, when the Huskies beat one of Krzyzewski's most talented teams in the NCAA final.

"Every time they step on the court, they can never, ever have a bad day, because teams are really, really getting up for them," Hobbs said of Duke. "I just don't know any other program that's under such a tremendous amount of pressure every game."

Both coaches have been testy.

The Washington Post and New York Times have explored the academic backgrounds of some George Washington players who attended prep school diploma mills. Krzyzewski was asked about influencing the NCAA, which shipped rival North Carolina to Dayton instead of here. Perturbed by that conspiracy theory, he didn't mention that Duke played Thursday's late game.

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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