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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Duke returns to Final Four

HOUSTON (AP) Mike Krzyzewski insisted all along the drought didn't bother him.

News photo
Sole survivors: Duke's Nolan Smith celebrates after the Blue Devils' 78-71 win over Baylor made Duke the only No. 1 seed to advance to the Final Four. AP PHOTO

Sure, he hadn't been to a Final Four since 2004. But there was no need to put extra pressure on this Duke team just because the last five fell short.

Hey, Coach K, look who's chasing another national championship.

Duke restored some order to a topsy-turvy NCAA tournament on Sunday, getting a career-high 29 points from Nolan Smith in a 78-71 victory over Baylor that put Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils back in college basketball's biggest event.

"It's not about the moments that I've been in, it's the moments that your players put you in right now," Krzyzewski said. "I'm really happy for this group. . . . It's as close a team as I've had. You want great things to happen for people who are great with us."

Jon Scheyer added five 3-pointers and scored 20 for Duke, ending Baylor's run to redemption in the South Regional final. The Blue Devils became the only No. 1 seed to advance to Indianapolis and earned their 11th Final Four berth under Krzyzewski.

"I don't know if it's a relief, but it's nice that no one can say anymore that we haven't been to a Final Four in so many years," Kyle Singler said.

Now, Singler and his teammates get the chance at a championship that every player who goes through the program expects to have.

"I don't know that it's fully hit me," said Scheyer, one of the three Duke seniors. "I'm sure after the year I'll have a better appreciation. But right now, I'm just ecstatic."

The fairy-tale ending wasn't meant to be for the Bears — at least this year.

"It's not over for this program. It was a great season," said LaceDarius Dunn, the junior guard who had obviously shed tears before the post-game interview. "Teammates should hold their head up high and be proud of the things we accomplished this year."

Tweety Carter and Quincy Acy had 12 points each for Baylor. Udoh had 10 rebounds, six assists and five blocks.

Bears coach Scott Drew was 32 when he was hired and had been a head coach only one season, winning 20 games at Valparaiso after nine years there as his father's assistant. He had to rebuild in the powerful Big 12 with reduced scholarships and a roster decimated by the transfers of the top three scorers after that tragic summer in 2003 when Patrick Dennehy was shot to death by a teammate.

Spartans slip by UT

ST. LOUIS (AP) The ball thudding away after J.P. Prince's desperation heave fell short, several Tennessee players collapsed in front of the bench, pressing their foreheads against the hardwood.

Scotty Hopson snatched off his opulently orange headband and flinged it to the floor in disgust. Coach Bruce Pearl stared blankly for a moment before going to congratulate the victors.

The Vols came up short. One second. One free throw. One step short.

To come this far, to get this close was heartbreaking.

Agonizingly close to its first Final Four, Tennessee left the NCAA tournament decidedly dejected after losing 70-69 to Michigan State in the Midwest Regional final on Sunday.

"This is painful, this is disappointing," Pearl said. "This is not what we came here to do."

The final margin was Raymar Morgan's free throw with 1.8 seconds left.

There were so many opportunities in this game.

The sixth-seeded Vols (28-9) couldn't stop Michigan State's suddenly-hot-shooting guard Durrell Summers, who scored 21 points. Hopson couldn't hit a second free throw with 11 seconds left, one that would have put Tennessee up one and the Spartans into a more desperate mode.

Tennessee couldn't come up with the ball after Hopson's miss, allowing Michigan State's whispery point guard Korie Lucious to sneak in and grab the rebound. The Vols couldn't keep Morgan out of the lane, forcing Prince to foul him. And Prince couldn't get the handle on what could have been the greatest finish in an NCAA tournament filled with them.

To come this close makes it hurt even more.

"This will sting for a while, most definitely," said Prince, who had 12 points and five assists in his final game in orange and white.

The wrenching finish ended a season unlike any other in Tennessee's history.

The low point came on New Year's Day, when a traffic stop led to the discovery of a gun and marijuana in a car carrying four Vols.

Pearl kicked leading scorer Tyler Smith off the team after learning the illegally altered guns found in the car belonged to the senior.

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