MINNEAPOLIS -- When the most prolific long-range shooting team in NCAA history was misfiring, 1999 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate Carlos Boozer came to the rescue.
Duke, labeled a 3-point shooting club with not much of an inside game, proved otherwise in the NCAA tournament -- especially in its 82-72 victory over Arizona in the title game Monday night.
"I don't know how many times we forced them to miss a shot and we ended up not getting the rebound or not being strong enough to hold it," Arizona coach Lute Olson said. "That really hurt us badly."
The Blue Devils, who had made an NCAA record 398 3-pointers going into the title game, were just 4-for-15 from beyond the arc in the first half. Meanwhile, 7-foot-1 center Loren Woods of Arizona was having his way on the inside -- until Boozer picked up his game.
"Coach told me to step between Woods and the bucket and be physical," said Boozer, who returned late in the season from a broken right foot.
The 6-foot-9 sophomore had 12 points and 12 rebounds in 30 minutes against the Wildcats. His two Final Four games were his third and fourth since missing six with the injury.
"Our team would be lost without our big guys," All-American point guard Jason Williams said. "When Carlos broke his foot, that was not the best time for Carlos, but for our team, it brought us closer together. We realized, 'Hey, we're all going to have to do this and we can't hold back."'
Not many reporters talked to Casey Sanders, Reggie Love or Matt Christensen in the jubilant Duke locker room, but that trio helped the Blue Devils bridge the inside gap until Boozer returned from his Feb. 27 injury.
"We would never be here if those kids didn't step up when Carlos went out and created a successful environment for our basketball team," coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Shane Battier, a two-time national defensive player of the year, started against Woods. But it didn't take Krzyzewski long to figure out a 5-inch height difference would be too much for his other All-American.
That's where the 270-pound Boozer came in handy, helping shut down the inside game of the Wildcats as Duke took control. His block of Woods late in the first half appeared to set the tone for the Blue Devils on defense.
When asked after the game if he remembered the block, Boozer smiled and said, "Yeah, I do. I just made a great play, but we had a lot more game left."
Indeed, and so did Boozer, who worked harder in practice this week to find his game and stamina. He needed it Monday night, playing his fifth-most minutes of the season.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Boozer turned to the crowd and held up his arms in celebration.
In the locker room, it was Battier and Nate James -- both seniors who played major roles in Duke's 133-15 record over the last four years -- praising Boozer as a dedicated player with unlimited talent.
"When Carlos came back last week it was a big boost for the team," Battier said. "This week, he was close to being back at full strength and he gave us a huge presence. We couldn't have won without him."
James, with the net around his neck, was tired and overcome by emotion. He put in five years of ups and downs, injuries and a late-season benching to become a champion.
"People always thought we were soft, but we always believed in ourselves," James said. "It was like we had to prove everybody wrong. Now, we're national champions, and no matter what they say, they can't take that away from us. That's why this feels so special."
© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us