Virginia earned lots more respect today, but Duke earned a 75-70 victory and a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship game.
Two three-point plays by David Henderson were pivotal for the top-ranked Blue Devils (31-2). The first, with 3 1/2 minutes left, gave them a rare lead; the second, not quite two minutes later, gave them some breathing room.
"It seemed like every possession was a big play," said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski. "That's the best I've seen Virginia play all year. One thing we've gotten accustomed to, rated this high, is having every team throw their best shot at us.
"This was a real good one."
The next shot comes Sunday at 1 p.m. against sixth-ranked Georgia Tech, which defeated Maryland, 64-62, in today's other semifinal.
"We're close to being a great team ," said Virginia Coach Terry Holland, "but we're not there yet."
There is time for the Cavaliers to get there, because every player making a significant contribution is an underclassman.
Virginia (19-10) scared Duke by scoring the game's first points and taking a seven-point lead midway through the second half.
The Cavaliers' 38-33 halftime lead was built, in large part, on a half-dozen Tom Sheehey jumpers. He owned the base line, and his 15 points in the half were three more than Duke's entire front line.
His inside-outside potential has been more anticipated than seen in three years with the Cavaliers. Today, he was driving the right base line for a jumper in traffic one possession and swishing an 18-footer from the left on the next.
"Maybe they took me for granted the first half," Sheehey said. "They thought I wasn't that good of an offensive player. They played me tougher the second half."
Still, he rose over Henderson on the first play of the second half and sank a contested jumper from an angle actually behind the backboard. From then on, he scored only four points.
Duke stayed close, but even when it would slip ahead, the Cavaliers would roar back. With slightly more than four minutes left, for instance, the Blue Devils' Jay Bilas stole a pass near midcourt and outraced Olden Polynice for a two-handed slam. Duke led, 64-63.
"I noticed when they ran to the right, Polynice would exchange with the point guard," Bilas said. "I thought I'd be able to get a steal earlier. I took it to the basket as hard as I could. It's the fastest I've run all year.
"I run like that when I'm chased."
No sooner had Bilas returned to his defensive position than Mel Kennedy put a one-handed stuff in his face, drew a foul and sank the free throw. Duke trailed, 66-64.
Bilas shrugged, "One good play deserves another."
There were so many good plays by both teams, including several drives for baskets by Virginia's sophomore point guard, John Johnson. He does not start, but very often finishes -- and well.
He was matched this game against Duke's excellent defensive worker, Tommy Amaker, who hitches up his short pants and gives his opponent a Devil of a time.
For the most part, it was an even duel. Johnson won some, brushing Amaker off picks and banking running one-handers from the right base line. Amaker pressured Johnson and the other Cavaliers handlers well enough for Polynice to get off only eight shots.
Henderson's biggest virtue was patience. Erratic in the first half, he faked Mel Kennedy inside and drew a foul on Polynice while sinking the layup for a lead, 67-66, that Duke never relinquished. His next three-point play followed a sharp feed from Danny Ferry.
"I felt if I could keep moving, I'd get the ball," Henderson said. "I felt I was sharp, even when I was missing. I was taking shots within my range. Mark Alarie also set some good screens."
The game was close enough for Duke trickery to be worthy of mention. The Blue Devils slipped into a rare zone after gaining that 67-66 lead. Virginia called time.
During the break, Duke switched back to man-to-man -- and Alarie forced a terrible shot by Polynice.
With 8 1/2 minutes left, Virginia thought it had a fast break working that would increase a two-point lead. The guards were flying downcourt, but a whistle -- far from the ball -- stopped them.
Sheehey was called for a foul, his fourth, for what the officials thought was a flagrant foul on all-America Johnny Dawkins.
Dawkins made only one of the two free throws, but making Sheehey play more cautiously was more important.
Johnson tried something sly on his own. With 42 seconds left, he fell spectacularly to the floor as Dawkins blew by him. Trying to draw a charging foul, he drew only a floor burn. Dawkins swished a jumper.
A few seconds after the final buzzer, Johnson and Amaker met at midcourt. Having not been able to shake each other all game, they shook hands and smiled.