Duke Overcomes Syracuse
By Ken Denlinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 21, 1998; Page E1
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., March 20 The game nearly every neutral college basketball fan had in mind when the draw for the NCAA men's tournament was announced Duke vs. Kentucky for the South Region championship became possible tonight when both teams won going away.
Kentucky raced to a 20-point lead over shorter and injury-hampered UCLA in the first four minutes of the second half and won, 94-68, before 40,589 at Tropicana Field. Duke also was the essence of teamwork, with seniors and freshmen, outside marksmen and front-court bangers, starters and backups combining for an 80-67 victory over Syracuse.
Sunday's match evokes memories of what is widely regarded as the best game in NCAA tournament history, Duke's 104-103 victory over Kentucky in overtime for the 1992 East Region title in Philadelphia.
The Blue Devils won on a turnaround jumper by Christian Laettner from near the free throw line with 2.1 seconds left after he took a long inbounds pass from Grant Hill. The lead changed five times in the final 30 seconds.
Tonight, playing in the round of 16 for the first time since 1994, the top-seeded Blue Devils (32-3) moved one victory from their sixth Final Four appearance in 10 years and eighth in 13 years.
Freshman inside players Elton Brand and Shane Battier and freshman reserve point guard William Avery led a surge midway through the second half that enabled the Blue Devils to break a 49-49 tie and muster a 68-52 lead with five-plus minutes still left.
"William was the most critical of anyone," said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, "because he was able to penetrate their zone and make things happen for Elton."
Avery's outside shooting also was important, because starting guards Trajan Langdon and Steve Wojciechowski were a combined 3 for 17 from the field. Together, Brand (20 points, 14 rebounds) and Battier (14 points, 7 rebounds) were 16 for 23 from the field and had 21 rebounds.
"That just shows how important the whole team is," said Wojciechowski.
For its part, second-seeded Kentucky (32-4) had been bothered by quick teams during the regular season. Sixth-seeded UCLA (24-9) was not a bother from the opening tip, however, as the Wildcats took advantage of the absence of injured Bruins guard Baron Davis (torn knee ligament) and grabbed a 40-23 halftime lead. UCLA ended up with its second-worst loss in 106 NCAA tournament games, 27 of which have been losses; only a 106-79 pounding by Indiana in the 1992 West Region final is worse.
It was the Wildcats who seemed the quicker team. And their 6-foot-10 center rotation of Nazr Mohammed and Jamaal Magliore had a fine time against the smaller Bruins inside players.
Several plays illustrated the game-long whole. An inbounds pass by UCLA's J.R. Henderson was intercepted and converted into a layup by Kentucky guard Wayne Turner. Mohammed blocked shots by guard Earl Watson and Henderson on the same possession.
Forward Kris Johnson was the lone Bruin who stood up well to the Wildcats, with four field goals in nine tries, 11 points and seven rebounds in the first half. However, he also had three of UCLA's 14 turnovers.
Eight of Kentucky's players scored before halftime and it had six assists to just four turnovers. Mohammed and Magliore combined for eight blocks. Watson and the other UCLA guard, Toby Bailey, missed all 10 of their first-half shots.
Earlier, Syracuse overcame double-digit deficits and pulled even with 12 minutes 25 seconds left.
"We needed a couple of defensive stops, get some penetration and make some easy baskets," Wojciechowski said. "We'd been standing around, settling for jump shots."
That's exactly what happened. Avery hit a three-pointer and had a few of his six assists. Brand and Battier contributed points inside and Battier blocked a shot by Syracuse center Etan Thomas.
The Blue Devils had little trouble getting shots against Syracuse's trademark 2-3 zone early on. And when Langdon, Avery and Mike Chappell were not hitting open three-point shots, Roshown McLeod and Brand were doing nice work inside.
All this produced a 22-13 lead midway through the first half.
Offensively, Syracuse had problems with Duke's overplaying man-to-man defense. Shooting guard Marius Janulis and point guard Jason Hart each hit a three-pointer, but they had little success trying to pass inside to Thomas.
Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim had talked about Hart's inconsistency being a concern. However, he was quite pleased with the way Hart helped lead a comeback that narrowed Duke's advantage to 30-26 with 2:37 left in the first half.
During that run, Hart scored off of two drives and converted a turnover into a fast-break layup. Also, he and his replacement, Allen Griffin, fed Thomas for two dunks.
Duke turned over the ball six times during this stretch and Thomas had one of this two first-half blocks. Included in the turnovers was an inbounds pass Langdon threw so high it went into the television broadcast area near midcourt.
In the final two-plus minutes, however, point guard Wojciechowski ignited a surge that lifted Duke to a 40-30 halftime lead with a long three-pointer from the middle. Chris Carrawell hit a leaner and Brand dunked to counter a pair of baskets by Syracuse forward Ryan Blackwell.
Alert play by Battier helped produce the halftime margin, as he grabbed the ball after Carrawell missed the second of two foul shots and put it back with 34.5 seconds left.
Hart and Todd Burgan (team highs of 20 points, 10 rebounds) sparked two spurts early in the second half that whittled Duke's lead to 45-39 with 15:36 left. Each had a steal and a fast-break layup. The Blue Devils continued to have ballhandling trouble, with Langdon throwing away another inbounds pass. Also, Wojciechowski picked up his third foul during this period, but replacement Avery and made a three-pointer.
The Hart-Burgan combination continued to produce points and the Orangemen pulled even at 49 with 12:25 left when backup center Elvir Ovcina tipped in a missed foul shot by Blackwell. Burgan hit a three-pointer and had a dunk off a lob from Hart, and Ovcina blocked a shot during the comeback.
But Avery and Brand then sparked Duke to an 11-0 run during the next five minutes. Avery had a three-pointer and an assist and Brand had two layups. From that 60-49 lead, Langdon and Brand had a runner from the key and layup, respectively, and Carrawell hit a 12-footer and a fast-break layup off a feed from Battier. The Blue Devils were in control, 68-52.
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