Duke Breaks Past Arkansas, 97-83
By Anthony Cotton
An almost frightening 15-4 second-half spurt by the Razorbacks put the Blue Devils on the ropes before Duke responded with its own fast break display en route to a 97-83 victory. Trailing by 79-78 with six minutes remaining, Duke went on a 19-4 game-ending run.
Phil Henderson scored 28 points to lead the winners, one of four players in double figures for Duke (29-8). Alaa Abdelnaby scored 20 points, Christian Laettner 19 and Robert Brickey 17. Todd Day had 27 for Arkansas (30-5) although he went scoreless for the final 8:44.
The Duke quartet scored all but four of the Blue Devils' points in the second half and 17 of the 19 in the stretch. With 5:44 remaining, Abdelnaby hit a short hook shot from the right baseline. After an Arkansas miss, Duke went into a three-on-one fast break; Abdelnaby was fouled in the act of shooting and his two free throws made the score 82-79.
Lee Mayberry scored on a jumper for Arkansas with 4:44 left but Duke scored the next seven points, all via the fast break. Each of the breaks started with the Razorbacks sending at least three men up for offensive rebounds. Each time, however, Duke grabbed the rebound and quickly released an outlet pass, leaving the Razorbacks with just one or two men to play defense.
Had Arkansas remained patient, it could have worked its way back into the contest. Instead the Southwest Conference team launched a series of improbable shots.
"We're a young team and I think that showed late in the game," said Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson. "When it came time where we had to make decisions, you could tell each player wanted to take it upon himself to bring us back. We've been able to do that at times this year but not tonight."
Arkansas, not Duke, was expected to set the game's pace. But the Razorbacks said they didn't expect the Blue Devils -- particularly Laettner and Abdelnaby -- to be able to run with them.
"Whatever they were saying probably just pumped us up more," said Laettner, who also had a game-high 14 rebounds. "Coming in, we knew we could run on them too. Everyone was talking about the Arkansas defense and their fast break but they play a real open style so we thought we could get fast breaks and easy buckets too and that's what we did. We broke their press and we scored easy buckets."
Yet, as has been the case in this year's unpredictable tournament, the outcome could just as easily have gone the other way. In the game's first 25 minutes, Duke had its greatest success by pushing the basketball down low to Abdelnaby and Laettner. However, Abdelnaby was whistled for his third foul with 15:55 to play and Laettner picked up his fourth with 13:25 remaining.
The subsequent free throw by Day made the score 58-57, Duke. Brickey, who scored 13 of his points in the second half, hit a shot from the lane to make it 60-57 with 13:06 left.
Then came the run from Arkansas. Day's foul shot had completed a three-point play just before Brickey's basket. After the score, he tied the game with a three-point shot. After a Duke miss, Ernie Murry scored on a drive; Duke turned the ball over at midcourt and Mayberry made a breakaway dunk. After another Duke turnover, Ron Huery made a three-point play. That gave the Razorbacks a 69-62 lead with 10:38 remaining and a 15-4 run over just 2:37.
"I thought we had a better chance then," said Mayberry. "We were forcing them into a lot of turnovers; but anyone has to know that Duke won't do that for the rest of the game."
During that stretch, the Blue Devils seemed rattled. For much of the game, Duke had alternated the point guard responsibilities between Henderson and freshman Bobby Hurley. That had worked until Arkansas' big run; after that Hurley didn't seem to want the ball, making it easier for the Razorbacks to apply its pressure.
At the same time, Abdelnaby's and Laettner's foul trouble had forced Duke to send out seldom-used players like Greg Koubek, Bill McCaffrey and Clay Buckley. At one point, Henderson turned over the ball by throwing a pass off Laettner's foot.
The two met at midcourt, exchanging words. While they talked, Arkansas threw a long pass that was barely deflected out of bounds by Brian Davis. As the ball hit the sidelines, the sophomore pleaded with his teammates, yelling, "Come on, come on!"
For many among the more than 17,675 in the stands, it seemed like the beginning of the end for Duke. But that wasn't the case in the team's huddle.
"To us, it didn't seem like there was ever a period that we were playing that bad," said Brickey. "In basketball, you can play okay for a period of time and the other team will take the lead. During that stretch they got some points and we didn't respond."
Duke began to make its move shortly thereafter, helped by the Razorbacks' inability to cope with the mile-high air. The Midwest Regional champions prided themselves on using up to 11 players each game but that didn't matter today. Richardson said that each time a player came to the sidelines he was laboring noticeably.
"I feel like I'm in shape to play 40 minutes every game but there's no way I could today," Mayberry said. "I'd get tired and I'd have to sit out at least 30 seconds or a minute. The altitude affected me more than I thought it would."
Laettner countered that the Razorbacks "were winded because of the way we played. They didn't expect us to run with them."
The Blue Devils had a size advantage with the 6-foot-11 Laettner and 6-10 Abdelnaby but Arkansas had quickness, most notably with its three-guard offense of Day, Mayberry and Arlyn Bowers.
Duke decided to put Laettner on Day at the start. As the game progressed, the sophomore power forward was spending too much time along the perimeter.
With the foul trouble, Duke Coach Mike Kryzyzewski began shuttling Davis into the game to spell one or the other big man. But because Arkansas fell behind by 8-0 at the start of the game and 54-43 in the first four minutes of the second half, Richardson had to stay with his starters longer.
"I think we played more minutes than we had wanted to," Day said. "We figured we'd start out good then sub a lot. Instead we started bad and had to stay in."
By the waning stages of the game, starting center Mario Credit fouled out and his replacement, Oliver Miller, played most of the last 16 minutes with four personals before finally committing his fifth. Meanwhile, given their forced rests, Abdelnaby and Laettner were fresh to control the boards.
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