From the Stands: Duke-66, Xavier-63

For the first time in three seasons the Duke Blue Devils are headed back to the Final Four. It wasn't easy as a tough Xavier team pushed Duke to the limit in the Regional Final before freshman Luol Deng came up with a pair of huge plays down the stretch to lift Coach K's troops to a 31st victory on the season. <I>TheDevilsDen.com</I> looks at what went right, wrong, and looks ahead to San Antonio.

What Went Right:

Duke was able to overcome a cold shooting night, a game opponent, and a physical style of play to advance to the Final Four. Though it's getting old thanks to the CBS Announcers, this new ‘refuse to lose' attitude comes from Chris Duhon. Yes he's got injured ribs, but it's the way he's playing lately that has earned all the extra attention. Once again he didn't score much (just six points), but the rest of his stat line was solid enough with five rebounds and five assists in 40 minutes played. His true value was on the defensive side of the ball where he held a hot shooting Lionel Chalmers to just four second half points.

As a team Duke stepped up the defensive through the game, holding Xavier to just 34.9% shooting from the field, including a paltry 3-of-15 from three point territory. The Blue Devil also managed to hang tough on the boards, losing a close battle there 40-39.

Offensively it took a while, but Duke finally began to take what Xavier was giving up. Unfortunately that wasn't much, as the Devils shot just 39% from the field on the night. However the second half adjustments did produce as Duke improved from 33% shooting in the first half to take a respectable 44.4% showing after the break.

Unlike the ACC title game against Maryland, Duke didn't wilt under the pressure of a late game in which the outcome was in doubt. The Blue Devils converted 16-of-20 from the free throw line, including 4-of-5 in the last minute to put the game out of reach.

What Went Wrong:

The slow start offensively is cause for concern, especially with Connecticut looming on the horizon. On this night the Musketeers had also had trouble finishing from the field, in part to Duke's defense, and it helped Duke stay in the game throughout the first half when the Blue Devils couldn't convert anything or buy a break. That kind of tight play will likely be deadly against some of the firepower they could face in the Final Four.

Also the lack of rebounding down the stretch is also a worry. After taking a 20-11 advantage on the boards in the first half, Duke was out-rebounded 29-19 in the second half, with Xavier logging 14 second half offensive boards. Had the Musketeers been able to convert on more of their second chance opportunities, it would have been very tough to rally.

Foul trouble continues to be a sore spot for Coach K's troops, as Shavlik Randolph fouled out again, and Williams, Ewing, and Deng all were whistled with four. The big guys simply must be on the floor and able to compete for Duke to be successful. Being saddled with foul trouble is a quick recipe for disaster moving forward.

Player of the Game:

It's a tough call between Shelden Williams and Luol Deng, but Deng's clutch plays down the stretch are simply too much to pick against. With 19 points, and seven rebounds Deng becomes our TDD Player of the Game.

Next Play:

Hard to believe it's been three seasons since Duke was last in the Final Four, but the wait is finally over. Now comes the hard part as the Blue Devils must prepare for a very talented, very hungry, and very hot UConn team that is beating everyone in its path senseless. Duke will need a big game from Williams and Randolph and will need to play the usual tough brand of perimeter defense that has become this team's trademark.


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