Duke's Back . . . to Back With 71-51 Win
By Steve Berkowitz
And it wasn't Coach Mike Krzyzewski or senior center Christian Laettner or junior point guard Bobby Hurley, or tonight's star, sophomore swingman Grant Hill, who summed it up best. That honor belonged to Duke Athletic Director Tom Butters, who also happens to be a member of the Division I men's basketball committee -- the panel that has overseen the tournament's phenomenal growth from the days when UCLA won the last of its seven consecutive championships over much smaller fields in 1973, to now when the field is 64 teams and the national exposure is enormous.
"What they've done is phenomenal in this day and age," Butters said. "I've never seen anything like it and I may never see anything like it again."
In addition to achieving its historical title defense, in its fifth consecutive trip to the Final Four and sixth in seven years, Duke (34-2) becomes the first team to be remain No. 1 from the preseason ranking through the postseason tournament since Indiana in 1976. And in one final touch, tonight's victory edged Krzyzewski past UCLA's John Wooden on the tournament's all-time career winning percentage list. Krzyzewski is now 33-7 (.825) to Wooden's 47-10 (.82456).
Down at the half, 31-30, Duke put away the game with a 17-4 run that consumed six of the last seven minutes, and went on to score on its last 12 possessions. All of this began after Michigan had cut a seven-point deficit to 48-45 with seven minutes to play. As they did throughout the game's final 23 minutes, the Blue Devils did much of the game-deciding damage along the baseline.
They featured Hill, the product of Reston, Va., who showed no signs of the bruised knee he sustained in Duke's semifinal victory over Indiana on Saturday night. Hill started in place of senior forward Brian Davis, who injured an ankle in Saturday's semifinal win over Indiana and was limited to 10 minutes tonight.
Hill said he was told during a pregame scouting report that he would be able to drive to the goal. He proved it when he drove the left baseline for two layups in about 30 seconds late in the first half.
He added five more baskets during those final seven minutes, giving him 18 points to go with 10 rebounds. He also fired the ball through a desperately trapping Michigan defense to Antonio Lang, whose uncontested dunk with 1:50 remaining got the celebration underway.
"It keeps getting better every time," said Hurley, who had nine points, seven assists and was voted the Final Four's most outstanding player.
For Michigan (25-9) and its five freshman starters, there will be better days as they look back on a tremendous, and mostly unanticipated, run through the tournament. The Wolverines' 51 points were a season low. They shot just 29 percent in the second half, they made 20 turnovers and their two most important players, freshman forward Chris Webber (14 points, 11 rebounds) and freshman point guard Jalen Rose (11 points), struggled with foul trouble all night.
"I'm just glad we proved everyone wrong," Webber said. "There will never be a freshman class to do this again."
His eyes welling with tears, Webber then clasped his hands over the crown of a baseball cap that read "NBA" across the front and bent his head toward his lap. While Rose answered other questions, Coach Steve Fisher leaned over and whispered consoling words in Webber's ear.
"We are crushed," Fisher said, "and you should be when you get this far and don't walk away with the championship."
The game was a rematch of an 88-85 overtime thriller that won Dec. 14 in Ann Arbor, Mich. But where that game featured wild, undulating runs and the Blue Devils stacking up a large lead, tonight's game began with a closely, if sloppily, played first half.
Neither team led by more than four points or reached the 50-percent mark shooting the ball. There were 12 lead changes and four ties. Duke committed 12 turnovers, Michigan 10.
In addition, each team's marquee player struggled. Webber came back from two fouls in the first five minutes to score a team-best eight points. Laettner, who scored just eight points in Duke's semifinal victory over Indiana on Saturday night, scored just five point of two-of-eight shooting. He also committed seven turnovers -- one more than he had committed in any game this season.
Michigan went into the intermission with that 31-30 lead, a far cry from the 43-33 deficit it faced at halftime on Dec. 14.
"I felt good about our chances at halftime, but I'm sure Duke said the same thing," Fisher said.
Krzyzewski said his team had played "great" defense in the first half, but that it was hurting itself with the turnovers, which Michigan converted into 15 -- or nearly half -- its points. In the second half, Duke committed just two turnovers while playing with what Krzyzewski called "much more emotion."
The half began with Rose whispering in Grant Hill's ear as the teams lined up to begin play. Hill just grinned, and the Blue Devils continued grinning early on.
Laettner (19 points) quickly converted a fast-break layup and a three-point goal, and Thomas Hill drove the baseline for a short jumper that gave Duke a 37-33 lead.
"I was glad Christian kind of snapped out of it," Hurley said. "I was runnihg on empty. It shows what a great player he is and what a clutch player he is."
Rose and Webber then committed their third fouls 31 seconds apart, the latter with about 17 minutes to play. With the score 41-39 and 12:45 left, Rose committed his fourth foul trying to prevent a third-chance basket by Cherokee Parks. The confident 6-foot-8 decision-maker was replaced by junior Michael Talley.
Michigan recouped a bit a few second later, when Hurley committed his third foul while pursuing a loose ball. (He stayed in.) However, after a television timeout with a little more 11 minutes left, Laettner made one of trademark game-altering three-pointers for a 46-39 Duke lead, the game's largest margin to that point. It prompted Fisher to send Rose back into the game.
When Rose cut the margin to 48-45 with seven minutes left, Duke called timeout. Hurley -- who had left after committing his fourth foul moments earlier -- returned, Laettner went baseline for a reverse layup and then stole a entry lob pass for Webber. The Blue Devils proceeded to work the shot clock below five seconds before Grant Hill again drove the baseline for another layup, making the score 52-45.
Michigan's problems continued to mount. Jimmy King missed a three-pointer, and Webber committed his fourth foul with 5:17 remaining -- a foul that also put Duke into the one-and-one. He stayed in, but Michigan took a timeout to regroup.
Play resumed with Laettner converting the one-and-one for 54-45. Michigan's James Voskuil made two free throws, but Thomas Hill made a third-chance layup and Grant Hill continued Duke's pounding of the Wolverines' basline defense by driving to and under the goal against the foul-saddled Rose for a dunk that made it 58-47 with 3 1/2 minutes left.
"You can't play aggressively when you're in foul trouble," Rose said.
"We had to play a spectacular game to win," Fisher said. "We were far from that. But we had a great run and we lost to the champions. We had a chance to take away the crown, but it didn't work out."
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