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FINAL FOUR: FIRST LOOK

DUKE vs. CONNECTICUT

March 29, 2004|Robyn Norwood

* Story line: These teams met in the NCAA title game in 1999, when Connecticut pulled a stunning upset of a Duke team that was being compared to some of the best in college basketball history. Elton Brand, Shane Battier and freshman Corey Maggette were on that Blue Devil team, but they lost to a Connecticut team led by Richard Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin.

* How they advanced: Duke is the only No. 1-seeded team to reach the Final Four, breezing by Alabama State and Seton Hall before having to work a little harder against Illinois and considerably harder against Xavier, holding off the Musketeers in the final minutes for a 66-63 victory. Second-seeded Connecticut got no such challenge, defeating Vermont, DePaul, Vanderbilt and Alabama by an average of 17.5 points.

* Common opponents: Connecticut didn't do well against the Atlantic Coast Conference, losing to Georgia Tech by 16 and North Carolina by three. Duke went 4-1 against those teams, losing to Georgia Tech by eight in one of three meetings. Connecticut and Duke both defeated St. John's and Seton Hall by wide margins.

* Style of play: Expect a fast-paced game. Both teams have blistering running games and three-point attacks, and average more than 79 points. Give an edge to Connecticut's trio of guards -- Taliek Brown, Ben Gordon and Rashad Anderson -- over Duke's Chris Duhon, J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing. Inside, Connecticut has four players over 6 feet 10 -- assuming Emeka Okafor is fit to play -- but Duke has slashing 6-8 freshman Luol Deng and sturdy 6-9 Shelden Williams.

* X factors: Okafor's shoulder stinger and chronic back trouble inject considerable uncertainty. Duhon is playing with sore ribs but has proven he can tough it out.

* What to expect: Connecticut, the preseason favorite to win the title, finally seems to be fulfilling its impressive potential. If Okafor's shoulder or back bother him, it's a toss-up. Otherwise, despite results against common opponents that suggest otherwise, expect a Connecticut victory.

Robyn Norwood

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

DUKE (31-5)

*--* Detroit W 67-56 Pacific-x W 82-69 Liberty-x W 76-47 Purdue-x L 78-68 at Michigan St. W 72-50 St. John's W 79-58 Portland W 84-43 Princeton W 69-51 Texas W 89-61 Davidson W 88-54 at Clemson W 73-54 Fairfield W 99-58 at Virginia W 93-71 N.C. State W 76-57 Wake Forest W 84-72 at Maryland W 68-60 at Georgetown W 85-66 Florida St. W 56-49 at Georgia Tech W 82-74 at North Carolina, ot W 83-81 Clemson W 81-55 Virginia W 93-75 at N.C. State L 78-74 at Wake Forest L 90-84 Maryland W 86-63 Valparaiso W 97-63 at Florida St. W 70-65 Georgia Tech L 76-68 North Carolina W 70-65 Virginia-y W 84-74 Georgia Tech-y W 85-71 Maryland, ot-y L 95-87 Alabama St.-* W 96-61 Seton Hall-* W 90-62 Illinois-* W 72-62 Xavier-* W 66-63

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* NCAA tournament x-Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout; y-ACC tournament

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CONNECTICUT (31-6)

*--* Yale W 70-60 Nevada W 93-79 Sacred Heart W 111-64 Georgia Tech L 77-61 Utah W 76-44 Lehigh W 75-55 Army W 74-46 Quinnipiac W 88-55 Iona W 104-54 Ball State W 101-62 Massachusetts W 91-67 at Rice W 92-83 at Rutgers W 75-74 Oklahoma W 86-59 Georgetown W 94-70 at North Carolina L 86-83 Pittsburgh W 68-65 Providence L 66-56 at Virginia Tech W 96-60 at Boston College W 63-58 Syracuse W 84-56 West Virginia W 88-58 at Notre Dame L 80-74 at Pittsburgh L 75-68 Miami W 76-63 Notre Dame W 61-50 at St. John's W 71-53 at Villanova W 75-74 Seton Hall W 89-67 at Syracuse L 67-56 Notre Dame-x W 66-58 Villanova-x W 84-67 Pittsburgh-x W 61-58 Vermont* W 70-53 DePaul* W 72-55 Vanderbilt* W 73-53 Alabama* W 87-71

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* NCAA tournament x-Big East tournament

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