web analytics
Your Independent Alternative!

Duke Never Wilted

INDIANAPOLIS -- Mike Krzyzewski sensed how the story would be written. It would be about history, a fourth national championship for one of college basketball's crown-jewel programs.

It would be about himself, about a Hall of Fame coach in his 30th year at Duke, tying Adolph Rupp's four titles with only John Wooden -- who won 10 -- ahead.

It was not the way Krzyzewski wanted Monday night's 61-59 over Butler remembered, he said as he stood on the floor of Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium while, one by one, his players climbed a stepladder to snip a precious strand or two of net.

"This," Krzyzewski said, his voice hoarse and emotion filled, "is a group that I love being with every day. Whenever anyone talked about what Duke had done in the past -- it might be our fourth national championship -- I never wanted to think about those things because it would take away from their moment.

"I want to be identified with them. I don't want them to be identified with me." They'll be identified with one of the greatest NCAA tournament finals ever played, a tense, breathless game in which two determined teams were never more than six points apart and came down to a halfcourt heave by Butler star Gordon Hayward that bounced agonizingly off the rim as the final second ticked off the clock.

Never had the Blue Devils (35-5) won a title like this. They beat Kansas by seven points in 1991, Michigan by 20 a year later, Arizona by 10 in 2001.

They had to beat what appeared to be destiny's team at its own game Monday night. Just grind. Hang in. Find a way.

The Big Three that had carried the Devils all season long -- forward Kyle Singler and guards Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith -- did again. Singler finished with 19 points and nine rebounds against one of Butler's two defensive aces, Willie Veasley, and was selected the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player. Scheyer had 15 points and five assists and committed just two turnovers, working most of the final game of his four-year college career against the Bulldogs' Ronald Nored.

Smith scored 13 points, the last two on two free throws with 3:16 left that moved Duke ahead by five, 60-55, and ultimately accounted for the ultra-slim final margin.

Seven-foot Brian Zoubek added a free throw with 3.6 seconds left, the final touch on an eight-point, 10-rebound, two-block night that capped a remarkable ascension from the bench and career oblivion in the final two months of his career at Duke. Beset by injury, he didn't settle into Duke's starting lineup until mid-February.

"I can't put it into words. It hasn't even set in yet," he said afterward.

Duke didn't score from the field in nearly the last five minutes, but gave the Bulldogs precious little in return. They shot less than 35(PERCENT) from the field against a team as dogged on defense as themselves, including a critical miss by Hayward with about four seconds left.

"To get that last stop, it was why we've won this whole year. Defense. We won the national championship with defense," Zoubek said. "There's nothing else to say about it."

There was for Krzyzewski, however.

"There was never an easy possession in this game. Never an easy possession," he said. "It was not a game anybody lost. Both teams were such winners, and we were fortunate to win.

"Thank God that we won, especially for my guys."

Comments are closed.