MINNEAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Victory for Duke meant validation for Shane Battier.
The Blue Devils captured their third national championship at the Metrodome, riding the late heroics of their Player of the Year to an 82-72 victory over Arizona in the NCAA Tournament title game.
Duke (35-4) led the entire second half but needed Battier, who returned for his senior season for a shot at the crown, to dominate the final five minutes in order to hold off the Wildcats (28-8), who nearly rallied from an 11-point deficit.
The Naismith Award winner scored six points down the stretch and set a key screen to free Jason Williams for a 3-pointer that gave the Blue Devils a commanding 80-72 lead with 1:45 to play. Duke hung on as it held Arizona scoreless after a basket by Richard Jefferson with 2:50 left.
"It's complete," Battier said of his career. "All that's left for me is to ride off into the sunset on a white horse. I love my guys -- we fought, we fought, it was a great year, and this is just the perfect way for us to end it." Duke, which won back-to-back championships in 1991 and 1992 -- the latter also coming inside the Metrodome -- joined archrival North Carolina with a trio of titles. Only UCLA (11), Kentucky (7) and Indiana (5) have more.
The Blue Devils' Mike Krzyzewski equaled Bob Knight, his college coach at Army, with three national championships in his ninth title game appearance. Duke defeated Kansas for the 1991 crown and topped Michigan the following season.
"I think we're as tough as any," said Krzyzewski. "Being so young, we showed that toughness. We just did tough things, and I think we're deserving of it." "I'm speechless," said Duke's Nate James, a fifth-year senior. "All year long we've been playing as a fist. Through adversity, through whatever, we stuck together and it's a total team. Today, it's a great day, and I'm glad to bring ot back to Durham -- a national championship." After falling behind 50-39 four minutes into the second half following a shooting blitz by Duke sophomore Mike Dunleavy Jr., the Wildcats used an immediate 9-0 run to get back into the contest and got as close as three points.
"Certainly, Duke was deserving of winning the ballgame," said Arizona coach Lute Olson. "We gave it a good run. In the end, we couldn't get it done." Gilbert Arenas capped a 6-0 burst with a layup on the break to pull Arizona within 68-65 with 5:28 to play. Freshman Chris Duhon completed a three-point play for Duke, but Arizona's Richard Jefferson, who scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half, answered with a 3-pointer.
"Well, you talk about toughness -- come on. Arizona is so tough," said Krzyzewski. "Winning against them makes it an even better national championship." It was then time for Battier, a 6-8 forward from Birmingham, Michigan, to take over. One of only 10 players in Duke history to have his number retired, Battier, the Final Four Most Valuable Player, threw down a follow dunk with 4 1/2 minutes left to make it 73-68.
Arizona's 7-1 center Loren Woods went 2-of-2 from the foul line, but an acrobatic tip-in by Battier was Duke's response. The teams traded empty possessions and Jefferson's jumper in the lane made it a three-point contest.
But Battier took a beautiful feed from Williams for a thunderous dunk. After a miss by Jefferson, a high screen by Battier left Williams all alone at the top of the key for the sophomore point guard's second 3-pointer of the night.
As time ran out and the Duke bench began to celebrate, Battier fell to his knees along the sidelines, possibly remembering the last time Duke played in a national championship game.
In 1999, the heavily favored Blue Devils suffered a 77-74 title game loss to Connecticut. In that contest, a dunk by Battier gave Duke a 48-43 lead early in the second half before the Huskies began to take charge.
On this championship Monday, Battier refused to let his team lose, collecting 18 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots. Dunleavy scored 21 points, Williams had 17 and Carlos Boozer added 12 with 12 rebounds.
Woods led Arizona with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Michael Wright had 10 and 11 for the Wildcats, who shot just 39 percent (28-of-71) in front of 45,994.
"They did a good job defensively," said Woods. "We were being a little inpatient. Other than that, we played great. We played a great game. We just lost to another great team." Duke connected on 47 percent (30-of-64) of its shots, including 9-of-27 from beyond the arc.
Three of those 3-pointers came by Dunleavy in a 46-second span early in the second half. With his father -- Portland Trail Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy in attendance -- the younger Dunleavy scored 18 second-half points and sparked an 11-2 burst that put Duke ahead by 11.
"It's about time," Dunleavy said. "I finally made my shots in the second half and was able to give us a little boost. It just feels great to be a national champ. It was a great evening for Duke University and Duke basketball." However, Jefferson was able to match Dunleavy nearly basket for basket over the final 20 minutes and drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing that swung the momentum. Arenas drove for a layup, Michael Wright converted a follow and Woods' hook made it a two-point contest.
Dunleavy responded with two quick baskets, added another score with just over 11 minutes left and drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner to give the Blue Devils a 61-51 advantage with 10:08 to play.
James answered Richard Jefferson's 3-pointer with a three-point play to provide a 68-59 lead for the Blue Devils, but Luke Walton, Woods and Arenas had baskets for set up the stretch run.
"You can kind of just tell, it wasn't our day for us," said Arizona guard Jason Gardner. "It was more that we were out there battling. It was even all the way. They just hit he buckets and we didn't." Arizona held a 45-42 advantage on the boards. The teams combined for just 20 turnovers despite erratic play by both squads, especially in the first half.
"You know, if we were playing them again tomorrow, who knows what could happen," said Jefferson. "That's never going to happen. But we're not going to take it as, 'Hey, this was good enough.' Of course we're never going to be satisfied. This is going to stay with us the rest of our lives." The Blue Devils held a 35-33 advantage the break. They took the lead for good when Williams benefited from a goaltending call on Woods with six seconds to play before the break.
Joining Battier on the All-Final Four team were Williams, Dunleavy, Jefferson and Woods.