MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - Duke's starting five made itself a perfect 10 last night, again finding a way to win in an unusual fashion.
Despite having both of their All-Americans essentially shut down for much of the night, the top-ranked Blue Devils capitalized on 18 second-half points from forward Mike Dunleavy to win their third-ever national championship. Dunleavy pushed Duke comfortably ahead with three consecutive three-pointers early in the second half, and after several mini-runs by Arizona, the Blue Devils eventually held on for an 82-72 victory last night in the NCAA finals.
Still, as atypical as it was for All-Americans Jason Williams and Shane Battier to combine for 3-for-16 from three-point range, the Blue Devils battled to victory exactly the same way they have in 33 previous games this season. They scrapped, they fought, they dove to the floor, they even made behind-the-back passes to save balls as they were flying out of bounds.
"It seemed like the loose ball ended up in their hands instead of in our hands," Arizona coach Lute Olson said.
Olson witnessed first-hand what opposing coaches have seen when facing the Blue Devils all season. It was simply Duke playing Duke basketball, the type of hard-nosed, rugged play that propelled this starting lineup to a perfect 10-0 to end the season.
"They've given me their hearts, their minds, and not only that, they've given it to each other," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I think you can see it, the courage they show game after game. But they're just a beautiful group of guys. They're like old-fashioned guys. They really want to be on a team, and they share things."
Last night, the Blue Devils received a double-double
"I'm speechless," said fifth-year senior Nate James, who relinquished his starting spot to freshman Chris Duhon. "All year long we've been playing as a fist. Through adversity, through whatever, we stuck together and [were] a total team. Today is a great day, and I'm glad to bring it back to Durham-a national championship."
Arizona nipped at Duke's heels the entire second half, 20 minutes of basketball that saw the Wildcats come within two several times but never draw even. The Wildcats' final push came with four minutes left as an 11-5 run cut Duke's advantage to 73-70.
But then Battier, who had been overmatched offensively by Arizona's Loren Woods for much of the game, put the Blue Devils on his back and carried them to the national championship.
Following a rare miss by Dunleavy, Battier soared for a off-balance tip-in; Duke's senior then elevated from the baseline for a thundering two-handed slam after hauling in a rifle cross-court pass from Williams. Williams' back-breaking three-pointer with a minute-and-a-half left was all but the icing on the cake.
In a season that saw doubters abound and adversity challenge a Duke squad more than any in Battier's career, the Naismith player of the year celebrated in style as the clock ticked down, lifting up teammate, roommate and unsung hero Dunleavy in an emotional on-court embrace.
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"I was trying to take it in," Battier said of the
Early in the game, with Arizona clinging to a slim lead midway through the half, Krzyzewski took the first significant gamble when he reinserted Williams into the lineup despite the point guard's foul problems. Williams had picked up his second foul less than five minutes into the game on a careless hand-check, but his return five minutes later was promptly followed by two layups by fellow sophomore Carlos Boozer.
Duke never trailed the rest of the game, taking a two-point lead into halftime after Williams' lightning-quick drive to the basket produced a goal-tending call against Arizona forward Richard Jefferson with six seconds left.
"I love being on the court, especially in games and in situations where it's critical," said Williams, who in the second half came close to getting whistled for his fifth foul on a couple of bumps with Arizona players. "When you play with great players, it just makes it that much easier to play the game."
The title-clincher in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome repeated Duke's march through the NCAA tournament in 1992, with both championship runs going from Greensboro to Philadelphia to Minneapolis. In contrast to when Duke stomped Michigan by 20 points in the '92 final, though, the Blue Devils survived a dogfight with Arizona, the nation's preseason No. 1 team.
The two teams comprised all five of the All-Final Four team, which included Woods and Jefferson from Arizona along with Dunleavy, Williams and Battier from Duke.