Juneau graduate Boozer plays huge role in victory

Posted: Tuesday, April 03, 2001

MINNEAPOLIS -- Carlos Boozer wondered whether his season was over a month ago when he broke a bone in his right foot. Fitting in at the Final Four was the last thing on his mind.

But with Duke shooting poorly from the outside once again, the 6-foot-9 sophomore fit perfectly Monday night.

Boozer, playing his most minutes since his injury Feb. 27, had 12 points and 12 rebounds as the Blue Devils (35-4) beat Arizona 82-72 in the NCAA championship game.

''This is a lot better than swimming in the pool,'' said Boozer, referring to his rehabilitation four weeks ago that helped him stay in shape while on crutches.

It was only the fourth double-double by Boozer this season -- but by far the biggest of his career. It followed a 19-point effort against Maryland in the semifinals Saturday night.

''This was amazing,'' Duke assistant coach Johnny Dawkins said of Boozer's Final Four performance. ''Look at the work he put in. Coach (Steve) Wojciechowski did an amazing job of getting his explosion back during the course of the week.

''You just really see it in him, and then Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) having all the confidence in the world in him that he could do some things offensively and defensively -- trusting him. He delivered.''

Some wondered if Duke was a better team without Boozer in the lineup, considering it went 9-0 without him as a starter down the stretch, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference title for a third straight time and taking the first two NCAA tournament games.

But Krzyzewski said such talk was nonsense. He was right.

Boozer was a combined 12-for-17 from the field in the Final Four, and it was his defense inside that helped the Blue Devils clamp down on Arizona.

Shane Battier, the two-time national defensive player of the year, started against 7-1 Loren Woods, but it didn't take Krzyzewski long to figure out a 5-inch height difference would be too much for his All-American.

That's where the 270-pound Boozer came in handy as he was able to 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.

''Coach told me to step between him and the bucket and be physical,'' Boozer said of his instructions from Krzyzewski when he entered the game to guard Woods. ''Even though he had a fantastic game I think we did a pretty good job on him.''

Boozer then started the second half in place of Casey Sanders and finished with 30 minutes, tying for his fifth most in a game this season.

''They were physically strong in terms of Loren not being able to hold his spot,'' Arizona coach Lute Olson said of Boozer. ''The inability to put the ball inside was our undoing.''

As the final seconds ticked off the clock and Duke had secured its third national title since 1991 under Krzyzewski, Boozer turned to the crowd and held up his arms in celebration.

In the end, Boozer's break turned out to be a good one for Duke as the Blue Devils grew closer and deeper as a basketball team en route to another title.

''I worked very hard to get back, extra stuff in practice, going before and after practice trying to get into game speed,'' Boozer said. ''I just needed to get my instincts back and it paid off these last two games.''

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