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ACC Aces Its Finals

Duke makes it a Sunday sweep for conference as Deng scores 19 points in a 66-63 win over Xavier in Atlanta.

March 29, 2004|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

ATLANTA — The coronation came, as expected.

But not without a scare and some classic momentum-shifting foul calls.

The Duke Blue Devils, the college basketball blue bloods who love to tell anyone listening about their tradition, are headed to San Antonio for their 10th Final Four since 1986. They are the lone No. 1-seeded team remaining.

Defeating upstart Xavier, 66-63, behind the frenetic play of freshman forward Luol Deng, who had a game-high 19 points in the Atlanta Regional final Sunday, ensured Duke (31-5) of a national semifinal meeting with Connecticut.

It also sent home the Musketeers (26-11), wondering whether they would have been the ones cutting down the nets in front of 24,711 at the Georgia Dome had senior center Anthony Myles not fouled out with more than 12 minutes left. Or if instead Deng had been dinged with a fifth foul, or even Duke center Shelden Williams.

"I wasn't surprised [at the rapid foul calls] because after a while they started calling it pretty tight," said Myles, who had one foul at halftime. "But some of those calls were pretty bull."

Myles, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes, was whistled for his second and third fouls before the second half was three minutes old.

He picked up his fourth and fifth in a six-second stretch while battling Williams for rebounding position.

"We were trying to get him out [between fouls]," Xavier Coach Thad Matta said. "We were just a little slow and they got the ball in quick."

Myles, meanwhile, said he expected to get yanked but saw no one at the scorer's table calling for him. It was Williams, though, who provided him more frustration, and not just an eventual double-double of 12 points and 13 rebounds.

"A lot of things he got away with," Myles said, "I wasn't able to."

Such as?

"We'd post up, he grabs my arm and then he flops and I get a foul," Myles said.

"I don't recall fouling him the fifth time."

When Myles was disqualified, Xavier led, 44-41, and still held a three-point advantage, 56-53, after a Brandon Cole free throw with 5:31 to play.

Enter the whistles ... and Deng.

After Deng's three-point basket from the right wing on a blown Xavier coverage tied the score, Musketeer point guard Lionel Chalmers was called for his fourth foul, for charging on Duke's Chris Duhon as he attempted a spin move near the lane with 3:54 remaining.

Just more than three minutes earlier, Chalmers had a similar play -- one in which his shot went through the net -- waved off because of a charging call.

J.J. Redick's three-pointer at the 2:54 mark, after a scramble, and a Deng tip-in one minute later gave Duke an insurmountable five-point advantage, 61-56.

"I thought it knocked them back just a little bit because ... it gave our defense a chance to set up against them," said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski. "Of course, [Xavier] never quit, but it gave us a cushion where we were able to handle.

"I thought we did everything well down the stretch and so did they, and we just kept the margin."

Duke's active man-to-man defense harassed Xavier enough that the Musketeers' shooting percentage dropped from 36.7% in the first half to 33.3% for the second half. For the game, perimeter-oriented Xavier made only three of 15 three-point shots. Chalmers and senior shooting guard Romain Sato were a combined eight for 26 from the field, one for eight from beyond the arc.

And although Duke also had players in foul trouble -- Williams picked up his fourth with 8:22 remaining, Deng his fourth at 4:07 -- only reserve center Shavlick Randolph fouled out.

"It would be easy to say, 'They foul out, we win,' " said Chalmers, who led Xavier with 17 points, though only four in the second half, when Duhon picked him up on defense.

"They did what it took to not ... foul, I guess. It's a tough situation when you've got refs out there calling it the way they want to call it and you have guys out there playing hard."

With Chalmers penetrating and creating and Myles owning the paint, Xavier outplayed Duke in the first half. Dedrick Finn's 21-foot three-pointer at the buzzer gave the Musketeers a 30-28 halftime lead and hopes of crashing the Final Four as the first No. 7-seeded team since Virginia in 1984.

Turns out those visions were as out of place as the guy sitting in the blue-clad Duke family section wearing a bright red Nevada Las Vegas Larry Johnson throwback jersey.

Deng made sure of it.

After a horrid first half in which he made one of six shots while playing 10 foul-plagued minutes, Krzyzewski said a tearful Deng implored his teammates in the halftime locker room to step up, to play outside of themselves.

"I knew that if I fouled out of the game it could have ended in a different way," said Deng, who had seven of Duke's nine points in one second-half stretch and was named the regional's most outstanding player.

"My teammates and the coaches kept reminding me to be smart out there. But I stayed aggressive because I knew that I had to in order for us to win that game."

Not earning the attention of the officials and following in Myles' foul-prone footsteps also paid off, enough that Duke again wears a regional crown.

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