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Duke, Duhon still standing

3/27/2004

ATLANTA (AP) -- Chris Duhon grabbed the ball one last time,
slowly dribbled up court and watched the final seconds tick off the
clock.

He may be hurting, but it sure doesn't show.

With his sore ribs heavily taped, Duhon steered Duke into an
all-too-familiar position -- one win from the Final Four -- with a
72-62 victory over Illinois in the Atlanta Regional semifinals
Friday night.

This was a performance that epitomized a gritty senior leader,
the guy Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski calls as valuable to his
team as any player in the country.

Duhon attempted only one shot, but it didn't matter for Duke
(30-5). The 6-foot-1 point guard dished out eight assists and kept
sneaking inside for rebounds, winding up with a career-high 10. He
also spent part of the night guarding Illinois' top scorer, Deron
Williams, who managed just seven points on 3-of-13 shooting.

And, with the wrapping on his ribs visible under his jersey,
Duhon picked himself off the floor time and time again.

"It feels like I just keep getting stabbed -- over and over and
over," he said. "That's just how it is right now."

Duhon was injured when he fell into a stanchion holding a TV
camera during the ACC championship game. The Blue Devils had a
stunning collapse that day, blowing a 12-point lead in the last
five minutes and losing to Maryland in overtime.

Duke looked vulnerable. So much for that theory.

The top seed pulled away from Illinois (29-6) in the second half
and headed on to the regional final to meet No. 7 Xavier, which
knocked off Texas 79-71 in the first game of the evening. The
winner of that game gets a trip to the Final Four in San Antonio.

Duke has a 9-1 record in regional finals during Krzyzewski's
tenure.

"Chris Duhon had a real courageous performance in leading us,"
Krzyzewski said. "He's in so much pain, and for him to put his
head down and say, `I'm going to drive to the basket, I'm going to
dive after a loose ball, I'm going to lead my teammates,' that's
what you want to see."

Luol Deng led the Blue Devils with 18 points, while J.J. Redick
added 17 and Shelden Williams 14. But it was Duhon, the senior
leader, who set the tone.

He dove out of bounds once to make a save, managing to call
timeout before slamming to the floor. On two other occasions, he
was knocked to the court by Illinois players.

Every time, Duhon pulled himself up and kept on going.

"It's tough, especially playing a physical team like
Illinois," he said. "But I wanted to be out there, and I'm not
going to let some bruised ribs stop me."

Duhon didn't attempt a shot until the final minute, when he put
up a long 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down. It was an
airball. No problem.

"Tonight, it just wasn't there," he said. "Tonight, it was
there for me to run my team, get guys in the right position, just
play defense."

Duke, which has the best winning percentage in NCAA tournament
history, will be playing in a regional final for the 17th time.
Another victory will send the Blue Devils to their 14th Final Four
-- just one short of the record shared by North Carolina and UCLA.

Both Duke and Illinois started the tournament with impressive
wins. The Blue Devils blew out their first two opponents, Alabama
State and Seton Hall, by an average of 31.5 points. The Fighting
Illini rolled over Murray State and higher-seeded Cincinnati by a
combined 43 points.

Illinois blew out the Bearcats 92-68 by shooting a season-high
64 percent and committing just four turnovers. Deron Williams
matched his career best with 31 points.

The sophomore guard didn't come close to matching that
performance -- and neither did his team. Illinois shot only 41
percent (26-of-64), committed 12 turnovers and watched its season
come to an end when Duhon grabbed one last rebound and dribbled out
the clock.

James Augustine and Roger Powell led the Illini with 15 points
apiece, and Dee Brown -- playing with a stress fracture in his left
leg -- added 14. But the other guards, Deron Williams and Luther
Head, combined to go 7-of-24 for 16 points.

"We went down with a fight," Brown said. "You always learn
from a game. Hopefully we learned our lesson."

The Illini got off to a slow start this season under first-year
coach Bruce Weber, but rebounded to win 14 of 15 -- along with the
Big Ten championship -- before running into the Blue Devils.

"I just told them how proud I was of them," Weber said. "The
most important thing was we hung together as a basketball family
this season. No family in life is perfect, and we're not perfect."

Duke was up 31-30 at the half and never relinquished its lead.
Illinois missed four straight free throws at one point, hurting its
chances to get back in the game.

Redick -- the cocky target of Duke haters everywhere --
essentially sealed the victory with a 3-pointer, putting the Blue
Devils ahead 67-57 with about 6{ minutes left. He strutted down the
court bobbing his head, his mouth wide open.

Illinois never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.