Inside job well done
Duke center Brand hits boards this time around
Posted: Sunday March 28, 1999 01:11 AM
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Duke and Elton Brand haven't been beaten in many categories this season, let alone embarrassed.
On Saturday night, in a 68-62 victory over Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament semifinals, the Blue Devils got some big-time redemption in the battle of the boards.
"Whenever we see Elton get that face, I really can't describe it, but he gets that look of confidence it really picks our while team up," forward Shane Battier said of Brand's 18-point, 15-rebound night.
Duke was overwhelmed by 16 rebounds in a Dec. 2 game against Michigan State, its worse inside effort of the season. It was worse on the offensive glass, with the Spartans holding a 25-5 advantage.
Duke vowed in the week leading up to its Final Four rematch with the Spartans that things would be much different. And this season, Duke (37-1) has pretty much gotten its way.
Setting the tone from the start in its first Final Four appearance since 1994, Duke held a 28-14 halftime advantage on the glass. That included doubling up the Spartans 16-8 on the offensive end with the hulking Brand and shot-blocking Shane Battier doing most of the inside work.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski drilled the Blue Devils for a week on boxing out in one of his patented, intense practice sessions.
"Oh God, it was ridiculous," forward Chris Carrawell said of Duke's practices that stressed rebounding over and over again. "But it paid off, it paid off.
"If you don't go rebound it's pathetic," Carrawell added. "It was one of those things where we worked on the fundamentals of just blocking out."
Brand, the national player of the year, was admittedly out of shape in the first meeting four months ago when he grabbed just three rebounds and scored 12 points. This time, Brand had 13 rebounds by halftime and finished with 15 in a satisfying grudge match for the 6-foot-8, 270-pound sophomore.
"I felt I was in better shape," Brand said. "The guys found me in a great position to score and I had a lot of confidence I would play better."
"The difference was the first half," added Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. "That assault they had on us in rebounding was incredible."
While the Spartans (33-5) were able to set the tempo for the most part against the nation's highest-scoring team, Duke's defense also took over in the final five minutes of the first half, holding Michigan State scoreless to build yet another double-digit lead.
In fact, Brand cleared the defensive glass on four straight Michigan State misses as the Blue Devils led at halftime for the 34th time in 38 games.
"It was so important for us to assert ourselves and Elton was the guy," Krzyzewski said.
And with a 33-0 mark when leading at halftime, Michigan State -- a comeback team all season -- appeared to have little hope.
However, Duke's second-half strategy didn't include Brand picking up his fourth foul with 10:12 left and taking a seat next to Krzyzewski for 5 1/2 minutes as the Spartans pecked away at the Blue Devils' lead.
"We knew we had to play every possession with all of our heart," Krzyzewski said of Brand foul trouble. "Points were so hard to come by.
"Elton's foul trouble put a spin on the game that might have made it even more difficult if our bench hadn't stepped up."
With Duke leading 59-52 with 4:44 left, Krzyzewski used a 20-second timeout to get Brand back into the game. He paid instant dividends.
After Carrawell put in one of Brand's misses on a follow shot, Brand grabbed a defensive rebound and fed Carrawell, who was fouled. One free throw later, Duke was up by 10 and on its way to its 32nd straight victory."Elton really had a transformation from earlier in the season," Battier said, thinking back to the first matchup. "The last game [against Michigan State] really embarrassed him. He looked really poor, but he recommitted himself to being the best player he could be. He was extra determined to come out and play well tonight."
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