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Acc In The Ncaa Tournament: Final Year Of Duke Dynasty I Fell Game Short

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By Bill Brill
USBWA Hall Of Fame

March 29, 2004 THE 1993-1994 SEASON DURHAM — Duke couldn't have entered the 1994 NCAA Tournament on a much lower note. The Blue Devils lost in the ACC semifinals to Virginia, 66-61. Duke, the regular-season champion, had defeated UVa by 30 points just three weeks earlier. Shortly after the game, Mike Krzyzewski's wife, Mickie, said, “I don't know if this team is done. This might be as far as we can go.” When the 1993-94 season started, Duke was seeking to regain its national domination. The previous season, the Blue Devils had lost in the NCAA Tournament second round to California, snapping a streak of five consecutive Final Four appearances, including four championship games. The team started the year rated No. 4 and moved up to No. 1 for one week in January, but it eventually finished at No. 6 in the polls after losing for the second time to No. 1 North Carolina. Duke also lost twice to Wake Forest, with Tim Duncan and Randolph Childress. Seeded second in the Southeast Region, the Blue Devils were a team hiding a lot of inadequacies because of the all-around play of superb senior Grant Hill, who was seeking his third championship ring. The frontcourt was strong enough, with 6-8 senior Tony Lang and 6-11 junior Cherokee Parks joining Hill. But Duke was young in the backcourt and devoid of a playmaker. The starting guards were sophomore Chris Collins and freshman Jeff Capel. Both were shooters; neither was a great ball-handler or defender. So Hill had to be what the NBA would call a point forward. He handled the ball. He also was the best defender, whether the opponent was 6-0 or 6-9. Oh, yes, he also had to score. But when Hill made only six of 20 shots, including one of seven three-pointers, against Virginia, Duke went stumbling into the postseason. Krzyzewski had called the 6-8 Hill “a reluctant superstar.” Rookie Capel, in awe, said, “He is the most incredible player. Whatever we need, he does. If it's points, he scores. If it's something else, he does that, too.” The Blue Devils were in a tough bracket in the Southeast, where No. 3 Purdue and its national player of the year, Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, were the top seed. The No. 3 seed was Kentucky, and the regional was going to be played at Tennessee — in SEC country. Assessing his team prior to the NCAA Tournament, Coach K said, “There was no (Bobby) Hurley. I knew we had to change a style that had been good to us for four years.” Duke won its first two games in St. Petersburg. The Blue Devils weren't overpowering, but they won with relative ease over Texas Southern and Michigan State by 12 and 11 points, respectively. Hill guarded MSU star guard Shawn Respert in the second game. And, surprise, Marquette upset Kentucky in the second round. Elsewhere, Boston College shocked North Carolina. Duke took on Marquette after Robinson's one-man show (44 points) had dispatched Kansas in the round of 16. With a short bench — senior Marty Clark was the sixth man, and junior Erik Meek was the backup at center — Krzyzewski settled for a slow pace and tough defense against Marquette. The Blue Devils won 59-44. That set up the meeting the fans wanted. Not just Duke-Purdue, but Hill-Robinson. The Big Ten's Big Dog averaged 30 points and 13 rebounds on the season. He was the top vote-getter for the All-American team and the winner of the Wooden Award as the top player in the nation. Hill placed second for the Wooden and third in the All-American voting, behind Robinson and California guard Jason Kidd. “This has been one of our most-questioned teams,” Krzyzewski said. There were no questions being asked after Duke dispatched the Boilermakers, 69-60. Except for a six-minute span of the second half when he was sidelined with four fouls, Hill guarded Robinson. When Hill sat down, Lang harassed Robinson. The Big Dog turned into a puppy. He made six of 22 attempts, getting a season-low 13 points. He got three of those baskets against Hill's defense. “I did want to play against him,” said Hill, who scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the second half despite playing just 14 minutes of that period. So the Blue Devils advanced to the Final Four for the seventh time in nine years, unprecedented in a sport of parity since the NCAA field had been expanded to 64 teams in 1985. “Mike gets more out of his players,” N.C. State coach Les Robinson said, “than any coach in America.” “Duke has set a standard for college basketball,” said Florida coach Lon Kruger, whose surprising Gators won the East Region and would play Duke in the semifinals. The other pairing had No. 2 Arkansas and its No. 1 fan, President Bill Clinton, against No. 9 Arizona. Duke was favored over the Gators, and Kruger had another problem. His 10-year-old son was a huge fan of the Blue Devils. Early in the second half, it appeared the Blue Devils were dead. They had played uninspired basketball, reminiscent of the Virginia game. Florida, playing in its first Final Four, led 45-32. Then Duke started a comeback. Hill was the primary reason, no surprise. Defending Florida's star guard, Craig Brown, he held him to eight points while getting 25 himself. But this time, he had help from an unexpected source: Clark. Besides scoring eight points and handing out three assists, Clark — never known for his defense — made the play of the game. Duke was leading 66-65 when Clark stripped the ball from Florida's Dan Cross. The Blue Devils missed a shot, but Parks grabbed the rebound away from Andrew DeClercq and dunked. At the other end, Lang drew a charging foul, then dunked on a breakaway to seal the victory and send the Blue Devils into the title game against Arkansas, which beat Arizona 91-82. “That's why they're Duke,” said a gracious Kruger. As for the championship game, a serious Krzyzewski said of the Razorbacks, “I think they're better than we are. They're deeper.” The two schools had met in the 1990 semifinals, and although Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson had promised “40 minutes of hell,” Duke won by 14 points. This time, Hill was exhausted from carrying the team all season. He did the ball-handling, played defense and led the team in rebounding and scoring. His fatigue showed on the second day of the ACC Tournament, and many wondered if it again would appear on the final night of the NCAA event. On game day, it took awhile to enter the Charlotte Coliseum because of metal detectors, needed because of Clinton's presence in a skybox. A 30-3 Arkansas team took the court with a lineup led by guard Corey Beck, swingman Scotty Thurman and power forward Corliss Williamson. Behind the outside shooting of Collins, Duke led 48-38 with 17 minutes left, and Collins and Capel leaped into the huddle at the bench. They celebrated too early. Arkansas turned up the pressure. The Hogs forced numerous turnovers. Duke had 23 for the game, nine by the double-teamed Hill. In mere minutes, Arkansas had erased the deficit and taken a 54-52 lead. The Blue Devils fought back to tie 70-70 when Hill drained a three-pointer with 1:15 left. Then the Blue Devils hunkered down on defense. Arkansas couldn't get a shot. With the shot clock ticking down, the ball went to hulking 6-9 center Dwight Stewart at the top of the key. He wasn't about to shoot. Stewart desperately passed the ball to Thurman, on the wing 22 feet from the basket. He had no choice. There was one second on the shot clock, and Lang was rushing at him. Thurman threw up a rainbow. The ball barely avoided Lang's fingers and fell cleanly through the hoop with 41 seconds left. Arkansas led 73-70. “I really had no choice but to put it up,” Thurman said. “I thought for sure I'd block it,” said Lang. Duke rushed the ball down the floor. Instead of the ball going to Hill, Collins fired a 25-footer. Later, Coach K didn't complain. “He had the guts to take it,” Krzyzewski said. The shot looked good. It went down in the basket and spun out. A few free throws later, the Hogs had their first title, 76-72. With that, one amazing chapter of the Duke dynasty had ended. The Blue Devils fell apart the next season, particularly after Krzyzewski went down with a back injury, and it wasn't until 1999 that they returned to the Final Four.