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NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Duke Advances With an Attitude

Confident Blue Devils start slowly but eventually wear down Illinois, 72-62, with a strong inside game led by Williams and Deng as they seek yet another Final Four.

March 27, 2004|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

ATLANTA — They're brash.

They rub people the wrong way with their holier-than-thou image.

They're arguably the most hated team in the country.

But get used to it, America, they're one win away from their 10th Final Four since 1986.

The No. 1-seeded Duke Blue Devils, who entered the Georgia Dome on Friday night under a cascade of boos and hisses, left the court early this morning with another notch in their belt, a 72-62 defeat of No. 5-seeded Illinois in an Atlanta Regional semifinal in front of 24,533.

Duke, which improved to 30-5, will meet seventh-seeded Xavier on Sunday with a Final Four berth on the line. Xavier upset third-seeded Texas earlier Friday.

"Illinois was quicker than any team we've played this year," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They just kept jamming it right at us."

Turns out the jamming was for naught as Illinois, the Big Ten Conference regular-season champion, saw its season end at 26-7.

The Fighting Illini were led by forwards James Augustine and Roger Powell, both of whom had 15 points and eight rebounds. Augustine, though, was in foul trouble all game and played only 22 minutes.

What was supposed to be a battle of backcourts -- the Illini's ultra-quick tandem of Dee Brown and Deron Williams against the Blue Devils' composed senior point guard, Chris Duhon, and sharpshooter J.J. Redick -- instead turned into an exhibition of prime post play by Duke in the second half.

Early on it was the emotional Illini who jumped the Blue Devils, opening up an 8-2 lead three minutes in before the officials' whistles slowed their roll.

The momentum-breaking foul calls -- Illinois was called for seven fouls before Duke was hit with its third -- allowed Duke to get its bearings.

With the Illini leading, 17-15, the Blue Devils sped off on a 9-0 run to grab a seven-point advantage.

The Blue Devils were still leading by seven, 29-22, when Illinois utilized its trapping defense to spark its transition game and score eight answered points, a spurt than ended with Powell's basket with 1:08 remaining in the half, giving the Illini a 30-29 lead.

It was the last time Illinois would lead.

"In the first half, we didn't do that well in the paint," said Duke center Shelden Williams, who finished with 14 points on seven-of-nine shooting. "We had to get it going and once we did that, then our guards started hitting big shots."

Redick, who missed five of his first six three-point attempts, was good on his last two.

Not that his confidence was ever lagging.

"[Luther] Head lost his footing and I just put it in his face," Redick said, referring to the Illinois guard who guarded him.

It was Duke's persistence in getting Williams involved after halftime by employing a high-low offensive set that paid major dividends.

"They ran the same play seven times in a row," said Illinois Coach Bruce Weber. "We did not have an answer."

Because when Williams wasn't having his way in the post, freshman forward Luol Deng was making his presence known.

"We wanted to rebound more and get easy baskets," said Deng, who led the Blue Devils with 18 points. "When our big guys got going, it really changed things. That and getting Augustine in foul trouble."

After trading baskets to open the second half, Illinois never got closer than two points, the last time at 48-46 with just under 14 minutes to play.

Duke's lead grew to as many as 12 points.

Illinois was bothered mightily by Duke's suffocating man-to-man defense, which neutralized the Illini's speedy point guard, Brown.

Duhon, nursing sore ribs suffered in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, took only one shot but led Duke with 10 rebounds and eight assists.

"It wasn't a night for me to put up a lot of shots," Duhon said. "I just concentrated on my defense and running my team on the offensive end."

He has at least one more game to do such things.

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