March 21, 2001
PHILADELPHIA - This has been a good month for Duke. The Blue Devils haven't lost in six games in March, including two against archrival North Carolina and two in the NCAA tournament.
After the second victory over the Tar Heels that gave Duke its third straight Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship, the Blue Devils moved into the No. 1 spot in the national rankings.
It's hard to believe things could get better this month for the top-seeded Blue Devils (31-4) as they prepare for Thursday night's East Regional semifinal against fourth-seeded UCLA (23-8).
How about getting back Carlos Boozer, their starting center who broke a bone in his foot against Maryland Feb. 27, the last game the Blue Devils lost?
The 6-foot-9 sophomore is averaging 14.0 points and 6.5 rebounds and leads the team with a .602 field goal percentage. His nine 20-point games trail only All-Americans Shane Battier and Jason Williams this season.
"It's good to have Carlos back," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We've had three good practices with him. I think he's running well. His conditioning is not at the level of the other guys but it's been good. It's been a real up for our team."
Boozer ran well during the Blue Devils' open workout Wednesday, and his teammates were excited about having him back after opening the tournament with wins over Monmouth and Missouri.
"He's going to be a presence and that's all we're asking him to be," Battier said.
Without Boozer, the Blue Devils went to a smaller lineup, using both Williams and freshman Chris Duhon in the backcourt, while asking reserves Casey Sanders, Matt Christensen and Reggie Love to help out up front.
"I think you have to look at what your team's strengths are," Krzyzewski said when asked about the adjustments he had to make without Boozer. "In a moment of weakness, or adversity, you tend to think of your weaknesses more than your strengths. I thought we could be quicker and the insertion of Chris with Jason for that group was a good one and it played to the strengths of Casey, Reggie and Matt and they've responded.
"That's worked well for us and we'll still play that style and Carlos is going to try to adjust to how we're playing with those kids."
UCLA lost two of its last three regular-season games before beating Hofstra and Utah State by an average of 19 points in the NCAA tournament.
The Bruins have been an up-and-down team over the past few seasons, but coach Steve Lavin feels his team having nine seniors and juniors will be an advantage against a team like Duke.
"It's their stability and leadership that have made this team enjoyable to watch and be around," he said.
Lavin also knows that Duke presents a problem coaches rarely have to face, whether it's getting ready for the Blue Devils with or without Boozer.
"Boozer will give them a big body inside who can finish in the paint, but ultimately it's Duke's style of play that is a bigger concern than any individual," he said. "It's having poise against their pressure defense, being able to execute against their pressure defense and not turn the ball over and finish with a high percentage look at the basket.
"Teams that turn it over or teams that shoot quick allow them to race the other way, 3-on-2, 2-on-1 breaks, and that's where they're deadly."
Duke is second in the nation at 91.6 points per game, 11.6 better than the Bruins, and its 3-point shooting has been at 39.5 percent, an even more impressive number because the Blue Devils take an average of 27 per game.
The winner gets the winner of the game between second-seeded Kentucky and sixth-seeded Southern California. It's no secret a lot of people are hoping for a regional final rematch between Duke and Kentucky. Those teams played one of the NCAA tournament's greatest games in that round in 1992 in this city.
"I think the East Coast media wants to see Duke and Kentucky," UCLA guard Earl Watson said. "I think the West Coast wants to see the USC and UCLA rivalry. It'll be fun to see how it plays out."
By JIM O'CONNELL
AP Basketball Writer