FULL-COURT PRESS

Let the post-season begin. It is that time of the year that the real Cinderella stories step up, bubbles get burst, and brackets start to shape up. It’s NCAA tournament time. Conference championships are taking place all across the country, giving every team a shot at locking up a bid to be part of March Madness. With our own UVM Catamounts already out of the picture, losing to Hofstra, I needed to look elsewhere for excitement. Enter, ‘The Rematch.’ Duke and North Carolina locked up for the second time this year, in what is college basketball’s best rivalry year in and year out. UNC had beaten Duke earlier in the season at Cameron Indoor Arena (at Duke), when Shane Battier committed a stupid foul with time running out. I know this game isn’t really a part of the tournament or even conference tournament, but it definitely begins to get the blood flowing for things to come. Built up all week as one of the best games of the year, the trip nine miles down Tobacco Road to the Dean Dome turned out otherwise. Right from the get go, I could have sworn that Duke had officially changed their school name to ‘Duke University without Carlos Boozer.’ Dick Vitale and company must have said this about twenty times in the first three minutes of the game, referring to the injured Duke big man. Boozer averages 14 points and 6.5 rebounds a game, and was Duke’s big hope of plugging up the middle. Just fourteen seconds in, it looked like UNC was going to take advantage of this early and often. Seven-foot center Brendan Haywood had a monster slam dunk to start the game, getting the home crowd going and the Dukies a little shaken. Duke would start out going 0-6 from three-point land, usually where they cash in. Even though it was nip and tuck early, it looked like we might have a blow out. And yes, it turned out that way, but not by whom you would have expected. You either love or hate Duke and coach K, but I will tell you this much, you have to respect their game. Without a real big man, Duke had to adjust and go to a smaller line up, relying more on quickness. They mixed up their defensive looks to throw off the Tar Heels by using a mix of man-to-man, two-three zone, and a half court trap. Carolina could not counter this and take advantage down low. Their three post players: Haywood, Julius Peppers, and Chris Lang only combined for 26 total points and 15 rebounds. Compare that to Duke forward Battier who himself totaled 25 and 11. Even though Battier is given all the credit, and Dickey V is running his ad campaign for player of the year, he might not even be the Blue Devils’ best player. The real star of the game was sensational-sophomore Jason Williams. He was the spark plug that kept things going, hitting one clutch three after another. He finished with seven three’s, 33 points, and nine assists on top of it all. He helped Duke control the tempo in the 95-81 victory, letting America know that Duke is ready to roll.