MINNEAPOLIS - Galvanized, scrappy Arizona ran into one too many number ones in a tough-man contest that saw Duke win its third NCAA championship, 82-72 in the Metrodome last night.
These two teams were ranked one-two in preseason polls, Arizona No. 1, and to expect anything less than an all-out conflict would have been ludicrous. No one was disappointed.
“I think this team is as tough as any team we've had at Duke,” Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Being so young and to show that toughness - (Jason) Williams makes a bad play and then hits a three, (Mike) Dunleavy hits those three 3-pointers in a row and Shane (Battier) wasn't hitting his jump shot but comes up with two amazing offensive rebounds - we just did tough things and we're deserving of this.”
While Duke (35-3) stayed in the No. 1 stratosphere all season, Arizona suffered through a long litany of distractions, the most severe being the death of coach Lute Olson's wife, Bobbi, last January.
To get to the championship game, the Wildcats had to beat two No. 1 seeds back-to-back, Illinois and Michigan State. Arizona defeated three No. 1 seeds to win the national championship in 1997. Had it dumped Duke, that would have made six consecutive victories over No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
But this Duke wasn't about to be dumped. It had the resilience and grit to overcome its youth and the slightly subpar performances of the two players that carried the Blue Devils here, Battier and Williams.
The All-American guard Williams was in foul trouble and made only 5 of 15 shots from the field, but finished with 16 points.
Battier, the national player of the year, finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and no turnovers. Did someone say “subpar?” Maybe it was because he had only six points and three rebounds at halftime with Duke ahead 35-33.
Ten of Battier's points came over the last 81/2 minutes of the game. His two big offensive rebounds came in the last three minutes with the Wildcats murdering Duke on the offensive boards for the most part.
“Battier did what an All-American does when there's pressure and the game's on the line,” said Arizona center Loren Woods. “He was there to provide what they needed. We slowed him down early but you can only hold someone like that down so long before he just comes out and explodes, and that's what he did.”
Battier, a senior, was the only upperclassman in Duke's starting lineup.
There was another explosion, this one just as earth-shaking, maybe more. It was detonated by sophomore forward Mike Dunleavy and cleared the path for an 11-1 Duke run that pushed the Blue Devils to a 50-39 lead with 16 minutes to play.
Dunleavy hit three consecutive 3-pointers in a total of 45 seconds during that run. And when Arizona countered with a 9-0 rally to pull within 50-48 21/2 minutes later, it was Dunleavy, again, accounting for nine of Duke's next 11 points. His 3-pointer with 10:05 to play staked the Blue Devils to a 61-51 advantage.
All 18 of his second-half points can in a seven minute span.
“It's about time,” said Dunleavy, who was 5-of-9 from 3-point range after going 6-of-19 through the first five games of this tournament. “I finally made my shots in the second half and was able to give us a little boost. Arizona came out and fought hard and played great. Somehow we were able to outlast them.”
That's exactly what Duke did, outlasted them.
The Wildcats fought back to get within 73-30 with 3:57 to play on two free throws by Woods. That's when Battier somehow tipped in a missed shot, a maneuver Krzyzewski said was the best he's ever seen in a title game.
“I had perfect vision and I didn't see how it was possible to make that play,” he said.
But Arizona swingman Richard Jefferson hit a short jumper 17 seconds later and it was down to three again.
Battier then got a great pass from Dunleavy for a dunk, Williams, after a turnover, hit a 3-pointer and free throws by Williams and freshman Chris Duhon capped the final 7-0 Duke drive.