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Slow down, Duke can run past UConn

SAN ANTONIO -- This is Duke's dilemma: Run away from Connecticut when it has the chance, but somehow slow the game down defensively to get the Huskies into a halfcourt game.

So, how does Duke pull it off?

Connecticut will run with Duke, and if the game is in the halfcourt, the Huskies don't mind getting the ball down low or swinging it out to the perimeter for a 3-pointer.

Duke, however, feels it can beat Connecticut at its own game by running out on the break. It also knows it can take out the Huskies if they cut the court in half.

"We've got to be able to make them a halfcourt team because they're so good in transition," Duke assistant coach Chris Collins said. "We have to eliminate the easy baskets. They're such a dangerous offensive team, but we still want to run when we have the opportunity.

"We don't want to slow down the game because we have big guys who can get out and run, but defensively we want to make them a halfcourt team."

The Blue Devils must make their defense the focal point. Duke can't allow Rashad Anderson and Ben Gordon to go off the way they have during the NCAA Tournament. Gordon is averaging 22 points in four games, while Anderson is averaging 18 points a game. Gordon is shooting at a 41.5-percent clip while Anderson is making 51.6 percent of his 3s.

Sure, Duke point guard Chris Duhon kept Seton Hall's Andre Barrett, Illinois' Deron Williams and Xavier's Romain Sato and Lionel Chalmers in single digits when he defended each, but this will be his toughest challenge of the tournament -- let alone the season.

Emeka Okafor is feeling much better about himself and he could be ready to increase his offensive production. He was averaging more than 18 points a game prior to suffering a stress fracture in his back. He's averaging only 9.8 points in the four NCAA games. Duke expects those numbers could change Saturday night.

"I know Okafor is better, and when Okafor wasn't healthy, those other two guys stepped up their game," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "You can't help off of Okafor. He's moving a lot better and that's scary.

"They're the best rebounding team in the country, so you've got to put a body on people and be alert. You can't make a mistake in boxing out, because that could translate into two points. That and their fast break are the two things that scare me the most."

The Blue Devils were outrebounded in wins over Illinois and Xavier. Connecticut outrebounded each of the four teams it faced in the tournament.

Duke's Shavlik Randolph said the Blue Devils must make the Huskies take difficult shots. And, he added, the Huskies must help by having an off shooting night. The first may be easier than the second. Asking for both, is asking a lot.

But, valuing every possession, as Duke's Shelden Williams said, will be critical.

"They have a very powerful basketball team," Krzyzewski said. "They get a lot of people up the court quickly and with power. I mean there's just like a thrust and they get it up court."

Krzyzewski talked about the Huskies' power on the backboard, shot blocking and overall scoring pop. How can Duke slow that down?

The Blue Devils must hope the Huskies rush their shots, maybe slow them down a bit, and ensure they rebound to limit second shots.

If they do that -- and the Huskies help by doing a few things wrong -- the answer to the how and why the Blue Devils can beat Connecticut becomes clear.

This is Duke we're talking about. The preseason No. 2 to UConn's No. 1. A No. 1 seed to the Huskies' No. 2. A team that certainly believes it should be wearing white Saturday night against the Final Four favorite.

Oh, and a program that knows a thing or two about winning national titles.

This year's Duke squad knew it could win its first national title since 2001 when it won the ACC regular-season title. Doing so was viewed by the players and coaches as the best primer for another national title run. The Blue Devils believe, as most did this season, the ACC was the best conference, and if they could win the league outright, they could also win the national title.

It didn't matter, at least in the long run, that they didn't win the ACC tournament. They won the round-robin, regular-season title, which in Duke's minds meant more than beating Maryland in the ACC tournament.

Duke won at North Carolina. It won at Georgia Tech, although the Yellow Jackets returned the favor in Cameron Indoor Stadium. As the preseason favorite, the ACC was once again gunning for Duke. It didn't matter in the end.

After answering most every ACC challenge, Duke had prepared itself to survive the first two weeks of the NCAA Tournament and be the only top seed in San Antonio. It also gave itself a chance. It just so happens, UConn is the next challenge to be overcome for another chance at a national title.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.