(5) Illinois 62

(26-7, 13-3 Big Ten)

(1) Duke 72

(30-5, 13-3 ACC)

    9:57 PM ET, March 26, 2004

    Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia

    1 2 T
    #5ILL 30 3262
    #1DUKE 31 4172

    Duke, Duhon still standing

    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.

    Dick Vitale's Tourney Take
    Duke's Chris Duhon continues to show tremendous courage in the tournament, grabbing a career-high 10 rebounds and handing out eight assists against Illinois despite playing with a painful rib injury. Luol Deng and Shelden Williams were tough inside, Williams especially in the second half. Duke did a great job containing Deron Williams, who shot just 3-for-13 from the floor after making 10 of 13 shots against Cincinnati. The Blue Devils move on to face Xavier, and what a battle of guards we'll see with Duhon and J.J. Redick hooking up with Lionel Chalmers and Romain Sato.
    More on Friday's Games

    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.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press



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