Sunday, March 25, 2001

SULLIVAN: Dynamic duo is Duke's difference

        PHILADELPHIA — Mike Krzyzewski is selling the team concept. He is promoting the idea that Duke basketball is an ensemble production instead of a two-man show. He keeps talking about the offense produced by his defense, of the overlooked heroics of fringe players. Everyone else is talking about Shane Battier and Jason Williams. And it's pretty hard to blame them.

        Coaches must concern themselves with team chemistry. They want to make every player feel a part of things — a vital part, if possible. Yet to the neutral observer — to anyone who can see things without having to spin them — what separates the nation's No.1 team from the rest of the field is that it
happens to have the two best college players in the country.

        Battier and Williams are a tandem for the ages. Battier, the senior forward, has won six Player of the Year awards to date, but Williams, the sophomore point guard, may be even better. They combined for 48 points in Duke's 79-69 victory over Southern California in Saturday night's Eastern Regional championship game, and totaled 17 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and three blocked shots.

Too much of the two

        “I thought we were in the game for a while,” USC coach Henry Bibby said as Duke cut down the nets at the First Union Center, “But they keep coming at you with Jason Williams and Shane Battier. Those guys are really good players.”

        Terrific as they've been all season, both Battier and Williams have exceeded themselves in the NCAA Tournament. They have risen to the occasion as if propelled by catapults.

        “We knew they were great players,” Southern Cal's Sam Clancy said of Battier and Williams, “but watching them on film can't compare to trying to guard them.”

        Williams had 28 points Saturday night, Battier 20 — and both players failed to match their tournament averages. They might have done more damage Saturday, but USC's second-half defense was designed to force Duke's lesser players to decide the outcome.

        “We tried to play a roaming man-to-man,” Bibby said. “Whenever Williams had the basketball, we had one guy try to go and get it out of his hands. We wanted to make someone else beat us. We wanted to do the same thing with Battier.”

Two-man game

        A similar strategy had enabled the Trojans to upset Kentucky in Thursday's regional semifinals. While Battier and Williams both take pains to point out the abilities and contributions of their teammates — “By no stretch of the imagination is this a two-person team,” Battier said — USC's strategy demanded proof.

        “We had become, for a few games, a two-guy scoring arsenal,” Krzyzewski admitted. “I don't care if those two guys take all the shots, but I thought our (other) guys were watching them. I told them, "You have to play off of those two guys.'”

        Freshman Chris Duhon hit four shots Saturday — three of them from 3-point range — and Krzyzewski carried on at length of their impact as “momentum savers.” Yet when USC closed to within five points in the second half, and later to three, it was Battier and Williams who made the 3-pointers to rebuild Duke's lead.

        A smart coach goes out of his way to praise his role players whenever possible. A great coach is one who can convince his star players to share.

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