What We Learned
Coach K is the best in the business
Updated: Tuesday April 03, 2001 7:48 AM
By Albert Lin, CNNSI.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- That Mike Krzyzewski could take a team featuring four sophomores and a freshman among its top seven players to a title is astonishing.
When Duke's bench proved to be weaker than initially thought, some observers wrote off the Blue Devils. When Carlos Boozer broke his foot, more followed suit. Instead, Krzyzewski adapted, teased more out of his reserves and secured another national championship.
Sure, he had two superstars to rely on in Shane Battier and Jason Williams -- but look at his 1999 team, which was loaded with talent. This club had two great weapons, true, but it had even more unrealized potential. The Blue Devils' margin for error was so slim when Boozer went out, but Duke rolled right on, winning the ACC tournament and cruising to the Sweet 16.
Rather than disrupting the Blue Devils' new run-and-gun style, Boozer's return simply made them stronger. The 6-foot-9 center scored 19 points in the national semis and added 12 points and 11 rebounds in the final.
Mike Dunleavy Jr. recalled the first practice the team had after Boozer's injury. It was 6 a.m. the next morning and the players were groggy and down, but Krzyzewski walked in gleaming. "He promised we'd go to the Final Four and win the national championship," Dunleavy said. "He promised that if we followed him and did what he said.
"It's amazing he would say something like that and it would actually come true."
That Krzyzewski found a way to make it come true is even more remarkable.
Shane Battier will be a productive NBA player
How could anyone think otherwise? Battier probably will not be a superstar -- although we wouldn't bet against him -- but he can and will do so many different things to help his team win, as evidenced last night.
The senior faced a huge challenge early on against 7-foot-1 center Loren Woods, who had a five-inch height advantage, a considerable reach advantage and probably an edge in athleticism. The Wildcats went right at the mismatch early on, with Woods scoring 13 first-half points. Battier, forced to work so hard to defend Woods and keep him off the boards, struggled with six points on 2-for-7 shooting.
But as all great players do, Battier eventually found a way to influence the outcome of the game. Arizona made its final run to cut the lead to 71-68 with 4:56 remaining, but Battier answered with three consecutive buckets: a follow jam over Woods; a have-to-see-it-to-believe-it underhanded tip; and a baseline jam off a feed from Jason Williams.
When the final buzzer sounded, Battier had 18 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and two blocks to earn Most Outstanding Player honors.
"You can only hold a player of that caliber to a couple baskets, a couple defensive possessions as long as you can before they come out and just explode," Woods said. "He did what an All-American is supposed to do: When there's pressure and the game is on the line, he was there to provide his team with whatever it needed."
He may not be the No. 1 pick in the draft, which a loud-mouthed fan sitting in the front row kept telling his companions, but every NBA team could use someone like Battier, a player with no ego plus the ability and desire to compete in areas that don't show up in the box score.
Said Battier of finally winning that elusive national championship: "All that's left for me is to ride off into the sunset on a white horse."
Basketball played at its highest level is a thing of beauty
Monday's contest is what the NBA needs, a freeflowing, up-and-down game which showcases the athletes and doesn't feature a stoppage in play every 30 seconds. The championship resembled a prizefight, not because of overly physical play but in how each team took the other's best shot and answered right back.
The first half was as tight a game as could be, with an early five-point Arizona lead quickly erased and Duke emerging with a two-point advantage. Only 11 fouls were called so play went back and forth, teams executing their offenses perfectly. Almost every shot was a good shot, and if it didn't fall it was because of solid defense.
"I didn't know how good Arizona was until we started playing the game," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I looked at [assistant] Johnny Dawkins on the bench and said, 'I knew [the Wildcats] were good, but they're even better.'"
The second half unfolded differently. Duke was in control most of the way, but even when the Blue Devils opened big leads, Arizona didn't going away. The Wildcats came back once, then a second time before Duke's duo of Battier and Williams broke Arizona's back.
"All tournament long, we've been making the big plays and hitting the shots that took us over the edge," Arizona sophomore Luke Walton said. "But tonight, we'd make runs but we could never hit those big shots. We could never get over that hump in the second half."
That's the other thing about the perfect game: The better team wins.