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MINNEAPOLIS -- They won without him. They were No. 1 without him. Some even suggested they were better without him. But with five minutes left, a one-point deficit and a date in the national championship game at stake, the Duke Blue Devils turned to the big fella, and Carlos Boozer carried them home.
Boozer scored nine points in the decisive stretch as the Blue Devils powered to a 95-84 victory over Maryland on Saturday before an announced crowd of 45,406 at the Metrodome. They will play Arizona on Monday night for the title.
"It was a tremendous performance," Duke forward Mike Dunleavy said of Boozer. "To go from where he was 10 days ago, being out with a broken foot, to playing like this, was amazing."
Boozer, a sophomore, broke his right foot Feb. 27 in a loss to Maryland. For three weeks, he watched Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski remake the Blue Devils into a sleeker, faster outfit -- one that crushed North Carolina twice, won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, earned a No. 1 seed and roared into the Sweet 16.
Boozer played a combined 44 minutes last weekend in victories over UCLA and USC, but was not in pre-injury form. His timing was off, his quickness was absent. After a series of rigorous practices this week, his bounce returned.
"This was a great week for me," he said. "My foot feels almost 100 percent."
He was nearly perfect Saturday night, making 7 of 8 shots and scoring 19 points off the bench. His late-game surge began with 4:43 left and Maryland leading 77-76. When it ended -- five free throws and two layups later -- the Blue Devils had a 91-82 cushion.
And considering Duke's problems on the perimeter -- 26 percent shooting from three-point range -- Boozer's timing couldn't have been better.
"We didn't stop Boozer," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "We did stop their three-point shooting pretty well, but they had another way to go today, which hurt us as the game went on."
Boozer wasn't the only story line in the fourth riveting game this season between these ACC rivals. Each previous match-up left a lasting image: Duke rallying from 10 points down with a minute left to win Game 1 in overtime; Maryland returning the favor with an 11-point victory at Duke (the game Boozer was injured); and Duke winning at the buzzer in the ACC tournament.
Saturday's image? Probably this: Maryland charged to a 22-point first-half lead, then was outscored 78-45 over the final 27 minutes.
"We played great to get that 22-point lead, but I knew they'd make a run," Williams said. "I thought we had enough to sustain it."
By halftime, Duke cut the deficit in half. And as the teams headed to the locker rooms, the Terrapins looked like they knew a brilliant chance had been wasted -- that the second half would pit their sand castle against Duke's high tide.
"I said, 'You're losing by so much, you can't play any worse, and so what are you worried about?" Krzyzewski said.
Duke's dynamic duo of senior forward Shane Battier and sophomore guard Jason Williams were superb. Battier scored 25 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots. Williams shot poorly from three-point range (1 of 9) but scored 19 points in the second half -- many of them in the final seven minutes.
Maryland compounded its problem with 21 turnovers and poor second-half shooting (34.3 percent). The Terrapins also couldn't overcome a slew of questionable calls -- or no-calls -- that went in Duke's favor. Several were made by Pacific 10 Conference referees David Libbey and Mark Reischling, who advanced to the Final Four just like the teams, on early-round performance.
The strangest call -- and arguably the most important -- came with three minutes remaining, when Reischling whistled Maryland center Lonny Baxter for a positioning foul against Boozer. It was Baxter's fifth and, considering the rough stuff that hadn't been called, the Terrapins had reason to complain.
"I thought it was on me, to be honest," Boozer said. "I thought I fouled him. It just went the other way."
Without Baxter, Maryland had no answer for Boozer, and the Blue Devils went to him time and again.
"They did a good job getting me the ball, and I just did the best I could to finish," Boozer said..