Blue Devils X-out Musketeers

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 29, 2004

ATLANTA - Too much history. Too much Duke.

The Blue Devils ended Xavier's remarkable run in the NCAA tournament and headed to their 14th Final Four, holding off the Musketeers 66-63 Sunday to win the Atlanta Regional.

Xavier had already cut down the second- and third-seeded teams in the region, but couldn't make it 1-2-3 against Duke. At the end, it was the Blue Devils cutting down the nets at the Georgia Dome.

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Duke will be the only No. 1 seed in San Antonio, advancing to meet Connecticut next Saturday in the national semifinals.

''This is something I've been dreaming about,'' Duke sophomore Shelden Williams said. ''When you go to bed at night, you have the same dream over and over till it happens.''

The seventh-seeded Musketeers had never been this far in the tourney, and it showed in the closing minutes against postseason-hardened Duke.

With the score tied at 56, Chris Duhon drove to the basket and missed, but Luol Deng grabbed the offensive rebound and passed out to J.J. Redick, who swished the 3-pointer that put the Blue Devils ahead for good with 2:55 remaining.

Xavier couldn't overcome the loss of Anthony Myles, its best inside player, who fouled out with 12 1/2 minutes remaining after scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. His absence was especially telling in the deciding minutes.

''You've got to play with what you've got,'' Lionel Chalmers said. ''But it definitely added up.''

After Redick's trey, 6-foot-1 Dedrick Finn drove the lane, only to have his shot swatted away by the 6-9 Williams. Duhon sped the other way and missed again, but Deng tapped in the rebound to give the Blue Devils a five-point lead with 1:55 to go.

Justin Doellman finally scored for the Musketeers, their first basket in nearly 4 1/2 minutes, but Duke closed it out at the free throw line. Redick hit a pair. So did Duhon, the only prominent holdover from Duke's last national championship team in 2001.

The Blue Devils (31-5) lost the last two years in the regional semifinals. They didn't slip up this time.

Deng had 19 points and was named the MVP of the regional. Williams also came up big, scoring 12 points to go along with 13 rebounds and five blocks.

Chalmers led Xavier (26-11) with 17 points.

Xavier failed to become the first team since LSU in 1986 to reach the Final Four by knocking out the top three seeds in a region. Duke is a virtual lock when it gets to this point, improving to 10-1 in regional finals under coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The Blue Devils will be seeking their fourth national title at the Alamodome next weekend.

''Only one team goes,'' Krzyzewski said. ''We're fortunate to be that team.''

Xavier was only 10-9 at the end of January, in danger of missing the tournament, but turned things around after Chalmers went off on his teammates following a 21-point loss at George Washington.

The Musketeers won the Atlantic 10 tournament - ending Saint Joseph's perfect season with a 20-point victory - and kept things rolling in the NCAAs. They knocked off Louisville in the opening round, upset No. 2 seed Mississippi State 89-74 to reach the round of 16, then made it to a regional final for the first time with a 79-71 win over No. 3 seed Texas.

That's where the thrilling ride ended for the school that is mispronounced often - it's ''Zay-vee-er'' - and struggles for attention in its own city, competing with the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Xavier took a devastating blow when Myles picked up his fourth and fifth fouls just six seconds apart. He was first whistled during a scrum for position with Williams.

Coach Thad Matta motioned for Brandon Cole to get in the game, but he didn't make it to the table in time. Redick got off a quick 3-pointer and Myles got nailed again while battling with Williams under the basket.

Myles hopped away in disbelief, then retreated to the bench, covering his face with a towel while his teammates tried to get by without him.

''We were trying to get him out,'' Matta said. ''I guess we were a little slow, and they got the ball in pretty quick.''

Still, the Musketeers showed admirable grit, holding a 56-53 lead with less than six minutes to go. But Deng hit a 3 to tie it, and Xavier finally wore down. They held Duke to 39 percent shooting, but were only 35 percent at their own end.

''Both teams made it difficult to get easy shots,'' Krzyzewski said. ''It was just a few plays that caused separation.''

The defensive tone was set right from the start, with the teams combining to miss the first 11 shots. Duhon, playing with sore ribs, finally broke the drought with nearly four minutes gone, driving to the basket and laying it in.

Then, it was game on.

The lead went back and forth seven times in the first half alone - the margin never getting higher than five points. The final change came right at the end of the half.

After Redick missed underneath with about six seconds left, Myles rebounded and threw a quick outlet pass to Finn. The sophomore sprinted up court, pulling up just beyond the 3-point line and swishing a shot as the horn sounded.

Finn ran toward the locker room, but stopped to pose for the Xavier section and get a hug from teammate Will Caudle. The Duke players trotted off the court with glum looks.

When it was over, their moods had improved dramatically. Duhon sat in the locker room, a net around his net, a Final Four cap atop his head.

More history for the Blue Devils. Too much for the Musketeers.