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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

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Four-time champion: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski (center left) accepts the NCAA Championship trophy after his team beat Butler 61-59 in the final on Monday night in Indianapolis. AP PHOTO

Duke crowned NCAA champs

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The ball sailed from halfcourt with the buzzer sounding — bounced off the backboard, the rim, the floor.

Most of the 70,000 fans on Butler's side let out an "Ohhhhhh," and the Duke players piled onto forward Kyle Singler at center court.

What a game!

And what a way to end the season, even if America's favorite underdog came up a little short.

Duke beat Butler 61-59 for the national championship Monday night, a win that wasn't secure until after the buzzer sounded — when Gordon Hayward's halfcourt, 3-point heave for the win barely missed to leave tiny Butler one cruel basket short of the Hollywood ending.

Singler scored 19 points and Brian Zoubek rebounded Hayward's miss with 3.6 seconds left — the first of two chances Butler had to win it — to end the overachieving underdog's try for a real-life "Hoosiers" sequel.

"We just came up a bounce short," Butler coach Brad Stevens said.

That bounce went in favor of the Blue Devils (35-5), who snapped Butler's 25-game winning streak and brought the long-awaited fourth national title back home to Carolina and the Cameron Crazies.

The "Big Three" — Singler, Jon Scheyer (15 points) and Nolan Smith (13) — won the Big One for coach Mike Krzyzewski, his first championship since 2001 and the fourth overall, tying Coach K with Adolph Rupp for second place on the all-time list.

"First of all, it was a great basketball game. I want to congratulate an amazing Butler team and their fans," Krzyzewski said. "Fabulous year. We played a great game, they played a great game. It's hard for me to say it, to imagine that we're the national champions."

Nobody figured this would be easy, and it wasn't — no way that was going to happen against Butler, the 4,200-student private school that turned the tournament upside down and drove 9 km from its historic home, Hinkle Fieldhouse, to the Final Four.

Butler (33-5) shaved a five-point deficit to one and had a chance to win it, when its best player, Hayward, took the ball at the top of the key, spun and worked his way to the baseline, but was forced to put up an off-balance fadeaway.

He missed, Zoubek got the rebound and made the first of two free throws. He missed the second one intentionally, and Duke's title wasn't secure until Hayward's desperation heave bounded out.

"I can't really put it into words because the last couple of plays were just not normal," said Singler, the Final Four's most outstanding player.

It was the closest margin of victory in a final since Michigan defeated Seton Hall 80-79 in 1989.

Playing against the Bulldogs and working against a crowd of 70,930 with very few pockets of Duke fans, the Blue Devils persevered — never leading by more than six but never falling behind after Singler hit a 3-pointer with 13:03 left for a 47-43 lead.

"They weren't going to go away," Singler said. "It was a great game."

Hayward and Shelvin Mack had 12 points each for Butler.

Everyone thought the perfect ending would be for Butler to win in its hometown, but the Blue Devils also like Indy — it's the place where they won their first championship, with Christian Laettner in 1991.

It's also the city where Smith's late father, Derek Smith, helped lead Louisville to a championship in 1980.

Some pretty nice symmetry there. Some might call that a Hollywood ending, too.

"I can't explain how happy I am," Smith said. "Like father, like son. This is so special to me right now."

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From the archives: Read Jack Gallagher's remembrance of Nolan Smith's father on The Japan Times' Web site at: search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/sp20010816jg.html

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