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Duke’s History With Lute Olson’s Arizona And John Thompson’s Georgetown Part II

Including a brilliant 2001 NCAA championship game

Georgetown Hoyas
LANDOVER, MD - CIRCA 1993: Head coach John Thompson of the Georgetown looks on during an NCAA College basketball game circa 1993 at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland. Thompson coached at Georgetown from 1972-99.
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Part I

The only time Lute Olson visited Cameron was on February 25, 1990 and he almost made it 3-0 against Krzyzewski. Ferry and Elliott were gone by then. Duke was ranked third, Arizona 21st.

Led by twin towers Brian Williams (later Bison Dele) and Sean Rooks, Arizona roared to a 16-8 lead out of the blocks and led most of the half.

It was a massive contrast of styles. Arizona outrebounded Duke 45-23 and got only 11 points from its backcourt. But the Blue Devils went small and forced 22 turnovers, while committing only eight. There were 22 lead changes but in the end Duke prevailed 78-76 behind seniors Phil Henderson (28 points) and Alaa Abdelnaby (17 points).

They were the only Blue Devils in double figures.

But it was Henderson’s defense that sealed the win. He held Matt Muehlebach to two points—nine under his season average-and got a steal and layup to extend Duke’s lead to 75-72, with under two minutes left.

Duke hit 21-of-23 foul shots, with Laettner making four straight in the final three minutes.

Arizona was 21-of-31 from the line.

The fourth regular-season meeting in four seasons took place February 24, 1991, again at Arizona.

To a non-aligned observer this was a classic. A seventh-ranked Duke team with a roster that included Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill met a ninth-ranked Arizona team that included Williams, Rooks, Khalid Reeves and Chris Mills. The game was tied 31-31 at the half, 78-78 at the end of regulation and 88-88 after one overtime, before Arizona pulled away for a 103-96 win in the second overtime. Williams/Dele had 24 points and 11 rebounds, Mills 21 points, Laettner 26 points, Grant Hill 21 points.

A classic.

But the narrative persists that homer-Pac-10 refs gave the game to the home team.

Truth? Or fiction?

Hard to say from the perspective of 30 years. Arizona was called for 27 fouls and Williams did foul out.

But Duke was called for 35 fouls and lost four players. Thomas Hill and Crawford Palmer fouled out in the middle of the second half and Laettner picked up his fourth foul with six minutes left in regulation and played under that duress for the duration.

But Duke certainly contributed to its own demise. Brian Davis missed two foul shots with Duke up by four and 90 seconds left. Duke had a two-point lead with seconds left in regulation and the first overtime but couldn’t get stops either time. Hurley had a chance to win in at the end of the first overtime but turned it over.

Muehlebach hit a three to open the second overtime, Laettner missed, Arizona got a couple of foul shots and the spent Blue Devils never caught up.

Five weeks later Duke cut down the nets in Indianapolis and this double-overtime loss became a footnote to the season.

A lot happened before Olson and Krzyzewski next squared off. Duke followed that 1991 title with another the following season. Arizona and Duke both made it to the 1994 Final Four but again Arizona lost in the semifinals, this time to Arkansas, the team that beat Duke in the title game.

Olson finally got that ring in 1997, ironically with a team that lost nine times, the most losses he sustained in a single season over a 14-year span. They were ranked 15th nationally and seeded fourth in the Southeast.

But magic happens in March and it happened for Arizona that year. Led by a perimeter group that included Miles Simon, Mike Bibby, Michael Dickerson and Jason Terry—future 19-year NBA player Terry came off the bench—Arizona beat Kansas, Providence, North Carolina and Kentucky to win the championship.

Maybe they were lucky. They had to go into overtime to beat Providence and Kentucky and only beat Kansas by three points. But wins over three of the top half-dozen programs in NCAA history is pretty darn impressive.

That 66-58 win over North Carolina in the Final Four turned out to be Dean Smith’s last game, although no one knew it at the time, including Smith.

Duke was seeded second in that same Southeast region but fell to Providence in their second-round game.

Arizona returned everyone of consequence for 1998 and not surprisingly began the season ranked atop the AP poll.

But Duke also was loaded. Trajan Langdon, Steve Wojciechowski, Roshown McLeod and Chris Carrawell returned and were joined by one of Krzyzewski’s best recruiting classes, Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Chris Burgess and William Avery.

The Blue Devils began the season ranked third. Both teams were booked for the Maui Invitational over Thanksgiving week, seeded opposite each other. Both easily advanced to the title game, Duke with wins over Chaminade and Missouri, Arizona with wins over Boston College and eighth-ranked Kentucky.

The title game was one of the most impressive regular-season non-ACC wins of Krzyzewski’s career. Duke simply exploded out of the blocks. The Blue Devils led 51-34 at intermission and extended the lead to 24 points early in the second half. Arizona fought back to within six at 84-78 with 1:47 left but Langdon hit a 3-pointer and Duke made eight foul shots for the 95-87 win.

William Avery, playing in only his fifth college game, led Duke with 21 points, followed by McLeod with 18 and Langdon with 15.

But Wojo was named the tournament MVP. His 13 points and five assists keyed the offense but it was his defense on Bibby that secured the win. Bibby scored eight points, hit only 2-of-10 from the field and had three of Arizona’s 18 turnovers.

“Wojo took Mike out of his game and Mike is a really good player,” Olson acknowledged after the game.

No one would have been surprised to see a rematch in the Final Four but neither team made it that far. Duke lost in the Elite Eight to that same Kentucky team Arizona beat in Maui, while Arizona was blown out 76-51 by Utah in the Elite Eight.

Duke and Arizona finally got that Final Four matchup in 2001, playing for the national title in fact. Most of us have that game on DVD or saved on our cable box or computer. We all know the back-stories, including Olson having lost his wife Bobbi to cancer and Duke’s Carlos Boozer recovering from a broken foot.

Technically it wasn’t an upset, although it seemed like one at the time. Duke was ranked first in the AP poll, Arizona fifth. Duke was the top seed in the East regional, Arizona the second seed in the Midwest regional.

But Boozer was still rusty, Duke had burned a lot of energy in overcoming a 22-point deficit against Maryland and Arizona had defeated fourth-ranked Illinois and third-ranked Michigan State (defending champs) in the Elite Eight and Final Four. The headwinds seemed to be in Olson’s favor.

Baby-faced Mike Dunleavy put on his assassin’s hat and hit a trio of 3-pointers to spark an 11-2 second-half Duke run that gave the Blue Devils some separation. Arizona closed to three points on four occasions but Duke answered all three times, including a spectacular tap-in by Shane Battier. Jason Williams put it away with a 3-pointer.

The final was 82-72.

Everyone remembers Dunleavy’s five 3-pointers (21 total points) and Battier’s overall brilliance (18 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, two blocks). But few recall the defensive job Duke did on Gilbert Arenas. Remember this is a guy who would average almost 21 points in 552 NBA games. But Duke held him to 4-for-17 shooting and 10 points.

Looking back it’s amazing the talent on display that April night in Minneapolis. Duke got 50 NBA seasons out of Battier (13), Boozer (13), Dunleavy (15) and Chris Duhon (9). And we all know about Jason Williams and that motorcycle accident that ended his NBA career after one season.

On the other side of the aisle we have Arenas (11 NBA seasons), Richard Jefferson (17), Loren Woods (6) and 2001 back-up Luke Walton (10).

That’s a lot of next-level talent. Add Arizona’s Jason Gardner and Michael Wright and Duke’s Nate James and you have the kind of talent we just don’t see in today’s one-and-done, transfer-friendly universe.

Krzyzewski and Olson never again squared off and Olson never again made a Final Four. He did get Arizona to the Elite Eight in 2003 and 2005 but lost close games both times. That 2003 loss was to the same Kansas team that had edged Duke in the Sweet Sixteen. Another almost Krzyzewski-Olson matchup.

Olson and Krzyzewski ended 3-3 against each other. Duke and Arizona were both nationally ranked in all six games, all but 1990 Arizona in the top 10. Not many coaches can boast a .500 record against Mike Krzyzewski in high-stakes games.