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Featherston In Austin, Post Michigan State

AUSTIN, Texas _ All good things come to an end.

For Duke, it just came to an end a few games too early.

The Blue Devils didn't have quite enough defense, firepower, rebounding or
ball handling to get past Michigan State in the NCAA regional semifinal.

But Duke wasn't an easy out.

"We beat a very, very, very good team," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo
said.
"When they were coming back, there was just a confidence about them. There
was no quit in Duke."

But Michigan State played with the poise down the stretch that the Blue
Devils usually show, sinking eight straight free throws in the final 65
seconds to clinch the 78-68 victory and end Duke's remarkable 2005 season.

"You either want the season to end in jubilation or crying," Duke coach
Mike
Krzyzewski said. "That emotion will actually show if you've had a great
season. There's a lot of crying in our locker room. Not just because we
lost, but because it's over. I'm proud of that and I love my team."

Lee Melchionni echoed Krzyzewski's words.

"I don't want to take off my uniform," he said. "It's been a tremendous
year
because we proved so many people wrong by winning the ACC championship. To
be part of a group like this is something special."

Duke finishes 27-6 in a year that started with the NBA defections of Luol
Deng and recruit Shaun Livingston, then was marked by a succession of
injuries and illnesses that time after time left Krzyzewski and his staff
scrambling to re-make the team.

"It's as unique a season as I've had as a coach because I've had a special
group of kids and that includes my walk-ons and managers -- that whole
group," Coach K said. "I told the kids after the game, it would be a mistake
for us to dwell on this game. Because the season's been absolutely beautiful
and sensational. We showed the same heart tonight. Our kids never gave up.
We're playing against a team that was playing really well. And we put
ourselves in position to win, in spite of a lot of different things."

That "lot of different things" included 22 turnovers (one less than Duke's
season high of 23 at St. John's), another tough shooting night for J.J.
Redick (4 of 14), foul trouble for Shelden Williams (who fouled out with
just under three minutes to play) and Michigan's second-half explosion from
3-point range -- after hitting just 5 of 31 3-point tries in the first two
and a half NCAA games, the Spartans suddenly hit 5 of 8 in the final 20
minutes versus Duke.

Yet, the Devils closed to within 3-points after a steal and 3-pointer by
senior Daniel Ewing with exactly three minutes to play. Michigan State
responded by going down low to Paul Davis who scored and drew the fifth foul
on Shelden Williams, converting the free throw to make it a six-point lead.

"We were trying to get the timeout [after Ewing's basket] and could not get
a timeout," Krzyzewski said. "Davis' three-point play was a huge play.
We
couldn't keep game pressure on them after they got that six-point
advantage."

Duke had one final chance down four with just over a minute left, when Davis
missed a jumper from the right side. The ball got tipped around as neither
Reggie Love nor DeMarcus Nelson could come up with the rebound. Davis got it
instead, drew a foul and converted both free throws.

The game ended with a rather odd sequence with 14.8 seconds left and MSU up
10. Izzo called a timeout -- to tell his team "not to celebrate or
anything -- to take care of business" -- and before play could resume, Coach
K also called a timeout, so he could pull Ewing and give him an ovation.

"He deserved to have his moment, even though it was not a winning moment,"
Krzyzewski said.

Ewing was the biggest winner in college basketball over his college career,
finishing 115-23. As a freshman, he rode the coattails of Jason Williams,
Carlos Boozer and Michael Dunleavy. As a sophomore and junior, he teamed
with J.J. Redick to give Duke perhaps the best pair of wings in college
basketball. As senior, he expanded his role -- he was still a potent wing
guard, but he was also the team's best on-the-ball defender and when Sean
Dockery went down with a knee injury late in the season, he took over the
team's primary ball handling role.

"The main thing is that he's been an outstanding player," Krzyzewski said
of
Ewing. "What he has been is invaluable to us. Ultimately, he's been a
winner. If you have Daniel on your team, you win more."

And Duke has won more this year than almost anybody expected

"That's what they've done all year," Krzyzewski said. "They've won
27 of 33.
They finished third in the AP in the country, they were ACC champs. It's
been a tremendous season. I've loved my team."

That raises the question that commentators have been debating for weeks. Is
this Krzyzewski's best coaching job?

"Considering everything that's happened, I think it's the finest coaching
job that I've seen in Atlantic Coast Conference history," Billy Packer told
USA Today.

I've avoided addressing the issue because I wanted to see how far this team
would go. I always thought it was a little ridiculous to start ranking K's
coaching jobs before we see where this one ends up.

Now that we know, I'm still not sure how to rank it. It's obviously a great
job by Krzyzewski.

Is it better than 1988, when Krzyzewski guided a team with one future NBA
player to an ACC championship and the Final Four? Is it better than 1991,
when he brought a talented young team home with a national title a year
ahead or schedule? Or better than 1992, when he drove Duke to a wire-to-wire
No. 1 ranking and a second straight national title, despite a string of
injuries that might be longer than this year's. Or 1997 when he pulled out
an improbable ACC regular season title with a 6-6 freshman center? Or how
about 2000, when he returned three players from the 1999 Final Four team,
combined them with a strong freshman class and somehow finished No. 1 in the
nation and 15-1 in the ACC?

This year feels a little like 2000 in that Coach K clearly managed an
overachieving team that ran out of gas in a heartbreaking game in the Sweet
16. And remember what happened in 2001 (speaking of great coaching jobs --
going 10-0 and winning the national title after losing your only post player
with a broken foot?) -- it's not farfetched that it could happen again if
everybody who is eligible returns to join another heralded freshman class.

But there will be plenty of time to think about next year. Take a few days
to celebrate what this team has accomplished.

"One of the things you have to be careful about is letting someone else
define your successes and failures," Krzyzewski said. "This has been a
very,
very successful year."

A reporter suggested that a No. 1 seed that fails to reach the Final Four is
going to be perceived as a disappointment.

"That's wrong," he answered. "People are allowed to think what they
want,
but we've had a great, great year. The achievement of a No. 1 seed is an
amazing accomplishment for this group of young men. It's one of the biggest
accomplishments I've had in coaching. To finish up ACC champs and get a No.
1 seed, believe me, it's a heck of a thing. It's been a great, great group
of kids."

***

Izzo ties Krzyzewski for the best NCAA Tournament winning percentage of any
active coach. His 22-6 record is exactly the same 78.6 percentage as
Krzyzewski's 66-18 mark.

If it's any consolation, the only way Izzo can finish this NCAA Tournament
ahead of Krzyzewski is to win the NCAA title. Anything less and he drops
back into second place.

***

Give the Big Ten credit -- they won the only Challenge that matters.

After getting trounced by the ACC 7-2 in the early season matchup between
the two leagues, the Big Ten went 2-0 against the ACC Friday night as
Michigan State and Wisconsin advanced to the Elite Eight by beating Duke and
N.C. State, respectively.

Along with Illinois, which advanced Thursday night, that gives the Big Ten
three teams in the final eight.

"It shows you how tough and strong the Big Ten is," MSU's Alan Anderson
said. "Great job for Wisconsin. Until we get to the point of meeting a Big
Ten team, I hope they keep winning."

Izzo said that he never bought the argument that his league was down this
season. But he also suggested that fans not make too much of a handful of
NCAA results.

"This tournament is sometimes about matchups, you know," Izzo said. "I
have
no question how good the ACC was all year. I also knew how good the Big Ten
was."

Of course, the ACC still has one bullet left in its gun. North Carolina will
get to face Wisconsin Sunday and could win a chance to meet Michigan State
(or Kentucky) in the Final Four.

***

Austin has not exactly gone bonkers over the presence of the NCAA regionals
here this weekend.

There are a few signs hanging from a few lampposts and a few dozen scalpers
stand on the street corners surrounding the Frank Erwin Center. The
University of Texas arena, shaped like a giant, brick-colored Ho-Ho, sits in
the shadow of the school's massive football facility.

Sixth Street -- the center of Austin's vibrant entertainment scene -- was
lively Thursday night, but hardly overrun by visiting fans. And Friday
night, while Kentucky and Utah were battling in the night's second game, the
local Austin CBS station pre-empted long chunks of the game to show the
progress of a heavy thunderstorm across the Texas plains, relegating the
game to a very small box in one corner of the screen.

Although the regional has long been touted as a sellout, about 150 tickets
went on public sale Friday morning. Those were tickets returned by Michigan
State, which failed to sell out its allotted 1,250 seats. They were gone in
less than 10 minutes, mostly scooped up by Kentucky fans who have traveled
to the Texas capital in hopes of buying tickets from scalpers, fans of
losing teams or whatever source opens up.

You have to understand, Kentucky fans are like Carolina fans without the
three-hour driving limit. The Tar Heel faithful will fill any arena they can
get to without an overnight drive. The Kentucky faithful know no such
limitations. I know a reporter who was in Maui when the island was swarmed
by Kentucky fans without tickets trying to buy their way into the high
school gym where that early season tournament was held. I've never been at
an event that included Kentucky -- starting with the 1978 Final Four in St.
Louis -- that wasn't overrun by the blue-clad Wildcat fans.

And, by the way, the Kentucky hatred of Duke is still strong.

"Whoever plays Louisville or Duke is who we're for," proclaimed a Kentucky
fan interviewed by the Austin American Statesman.

Since Louisville wasn't in Austin, the Kentucky fans saved their venom for
Duke. But it wasn't nearly as anti-Duke as Charlotte. The Kentucky fans were
late arriving and didn't make themselves heard until late in Michigan State's
victory over Duke.