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Duke in the Final Four

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butler from page 5 the past 14 years, but this is the first time the squad will stay on for the Final Four. Butler’s success is often attributed to Stevens, who made a life-changing decision in 2000. He left his job as a marketing representative at the medicine manufacturer Eli Lilly to pursue a college coaching career. Becoming head coach in 2007, Stevens has directed the Bulldogs to a 86-14 record in his first three years. Stevens has relied on his commanding knowledge of the game to lead a team of not terribly athletic players, only two of whom are taller than 6-foot-3, to the Final Four. With 86 total wins and three NCAA bids under his belt, Stevens has one of the greatest starts to a career in college coaching history. Stevens said the key to his achievement comes from his drive to perform as well as he can at everything he does. “I was told by a person at [Eli] Lilly early on in my time that the secret is just do your job to the best of your ability and don’t worry about anything else,” he said. “That’s what I’ve tried to do. So I’ve never put a timeline on anything. It’s always just been about trying to do whatever job I’m assigned well.” Adding more excitement to the Bulldogs’ Tournament run, Butler will be the first team to play a Final Four in its hometown since UCLA in 1972. While they have struggled to sell out their stadium in the past, Stevens said that the Bulldogs have solid fan support, and the environment during home games is always loud and lively despite the empty seats. Even with the Lucas Oil Stadium being just a few miles from Butler’s campus, Stevens doesn’t think the fans are going to be a deciding factor come Saturday. “Everybody is talking about us playing at home,” Stevens said. “Michigan State won a Final Four in Indianapolis in 2000…. This

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is Butler country, but it’s also Big Ten country. It’s not like it’s going to be an all-Butler crowd on Saturday.” Indianapolis may be special to Butler in particular, but Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said that there is something about the Circle City and its unique relationship to college basketball that is special for every team. “It has been a great place to have a Final Four,” Kryzewski said. “I love a Final Four where you are playing and the people can just walk around. There is a spirit there.... It’s such a good town and a good sports city that having it right there adds a lot to it.” Bringing home a national title home come Monday would mean tremendous things for the Bulldogs’ program and its fans—even if home is just down the road.

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Butler sophomore Shelvin Mack had 16 points in the Bulldogs’ Elite 8 win over Kansas State Saturday.

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Duke in the Final Four

The chronicle

zoubek/thomas from page 13

michael naclerio/The Chronicle

Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas came up with key rebounds and defensive stops against Baylor Sunday.

of crashing the offensive boards. In fact, over the first two weekends, the Blue Devils averaged an absurd 15.8 offensive rebounds per game. Those boards are critical, especially considering Duke hasn’t been a particularly good shooting team in terms of field goal percentage, where it checks in at a mediocre 43.9 percent. Consider this: The point differential in Sunday’s final score was seven points. The tally for second-chance points? Baylor, 16. Duke, 23. “They’ve carried us, you know, especially on the boards, Brian having 14 boards the last game and Lance having nine the game before,” Scheyer said. And as two of the most veteran players on the team, Thomas and Zoubek exert their influence through sheer will and senior leadership, the latter a fleeting commodity in today’s college basketball environment. In one instance, Zoubek picked up his fifth foul Sunday with 2:18 showing on the game clock, the Final Four on the line and his team up six. The center headed back to the Duke bench, TV cameras trained on him. Zoubek pointed at replacement Miles Plumlee, looked him straight in the eye

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and implored him to take over where he had left off. It was not unlike a general sending his troops off to war. “The thing that was going through my head was, ‘I fouled out,’ and I didn’t want that to be the last thing that I did in my Duke career,” Zoubek recalled. “I knew that Miles could take care of business. I wanted to make sure that he knew that I believed in him, and that he could have no letdown when he got in. And he did a great job.” A few minutes later, Thomas wove between the Baylor players and dunked the Singler miss, despite being stymied by the Bears’ long and athletic front line for nearly the entire game. No matter— Thomas came up with the biggest play when it mattered the most. “We’ve been underrated and looked over my whole career, and sometimes

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we may have deserved it,” Zoubek said of the Duke teams he has been a part of over the past four years. He may as well have been referring to Thomas and himself. But in his last year as a Blue Devil, the now-fully-healthy Zoubek has finally given Duke the legitimate center presence so many have said it lacked since Shelden Williams graduated in 2006. Even beyond that, Zoubek said that after having been through the public’s abuse, the media’s criticism and some devastating losses the past four years, he and Thomas understand where they need to be on the court and what kind of attitude they need to adopt in every situation. These seniors are determined to make the most of their last chance at a national title run, and so far, they’re doing just fine.

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Duke in the Final Four

THIS SPRING

singler from page 8 from guarding Dunn took him out of his offensive game, but the end result—a Blue Devil victory­—still came to pass. Heading into Saturday, Singler will likely be asked to play a similar role in slowing down an equally impressive foe—West Virginia’s Da’Sean Butler. The 6-foot-7 forward, who is too tall for guards and too quick for traditional big men, boasts a similar skill set to Singler in terms of his versatility. When the Blue Devils were eliminated by the Mountaineers in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, Butler was a third option to Joe Alexander and Alex Ruoff, but he has quickly evolved into the goto guy for the squad this year. “Butler is one of the best players in the country,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a great player and a clutch player. I mean, there’s nobody who’s hit as many big shots as this kid. Having a guy like him on your team is what every coach would like. He’s a great, great player.” Butler, who averages more than 17 points and six rebounds per game, hit game-winning shots against Cincinnati in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament and against Georgetown in the final. In addition, the senior showed his ability to get hot quickly, as he made four straight 3-pointers against Kentucky Saturday to put West Virginia in control of that game, which sent the Mountaineers to the Final Four. Suffice it to say, if Singler gets the primary assignment on Butler, he will have his hands full. It could mean that Duke will have to sacrifice some of his offense in order to slow down one of the most dangerous offensive players in Indianapolis. “We’re very fortunate to have Da’Sean Butler,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. “When your best player is arguably your

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best person, without a question your hardest worker, you’re going to be pretty good.” It is unlikely that Singler will be held without a field goal again, and the game against Baylor could have simply been an aberration that the junior will quickly shake off. But if Singler’s offensive game was hampered by the fact that he was busy slowing down an explosive scorer, then it is not unreasonable to expect his offensive contributions against West Virginia to be fewer than usual. However, even if Singler’s stat line is not as glamorous as it normally is, he’ll be fulfilling his top priority—helping the team win. And if Duke advances to Monday to play for a fourth national championship, that’s all that matters.

michael naclerio/The Chronicle

Kyle Singler was assigned to cover quick guards like LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter against Baylor.


Duke in the Final Four

The chronicle

fanaroff from page 7

michael naclerio/The Chronicle

Junior Kyle Singler and senior Lance Thomas aren’t faking it—this group of Duke teammates truly likes one another, on and off the court.

west virginia from page 11 kicking out, getting extra shots and playing defense—all those things have been working for us. And that’s what we base our game on.” It’s a big change for Duke, replacing the 3-pointhappy team of 2008 with the offensive rebounding machine of 2010. West Virginia has also evolved, although not as drastically. Butler has become a star. Sophomores Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones provide new scoring options. And that point guard who terrorized the Blue Devils? He’s back in a major role after an injury to starter Truck Bryant. It is largely thanks to Mazzulla’s stellar Elite 8 performance against Kentucky, in fact, that West Virginia finds itself in the Final Four. Now, he’s ready to lead his team against the one he once taunted with a mock floor slap—under even brighter lights than before. “It’s not about payback or anything like that,” Scheyer said. “But the last time you play somebody, you remember what that team was like.” Come Sunday morning, Duke hopes its last memory of West Virginia is of a team that didn’t get an opportunity to talk trash, even if it wanted to.

melissa yeo/Chronicle file photo

Senior Brian Zoubek was a non-factor in 2008, but he will be critical against West Virginia in Saturday’s rematch with the Mountaineers in the Final Four.

against Baylor: “My boy [Jon Scheyer] tweeted yes! I have secret tho! I had to take his phone and do it!” If that doesn’t speak to a team that loves spending time together, I don’t know what does. 4. This team has been through the bad times and grown together into something special. If there’s anything that really separates this Duke team from your older brother’s villainous Duke team, this is it. These Blue Devils start three seniors and two juniors. The seniors were here in 2007, easily the program’s worst season since 1995, and lost in the first round to VCU. They experienced the near-loss to Belmont in 2008 and a Sweet 16 shellacking last year. They read countless articles wondering if Duke was done as a national power, and heard countless talking heads on ESPN questioning the way Krzyzewski recruited and coached. They watched four players transfer away from Durham, even as they remained loyal to the program. After all that, they’re finally being rewarded. In an era

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where the best college basketball players are often one- or two-year rentals, Duke’s three seniors and two juniors are throwbacks. The most telling moment of Duke’s regional final victory was when Brian Zoubek fouled out of the game, walked back to the bench and screamed encouragement to his teammates. It had never been more plainly obvious: This season matters to these players, these guys who were so highly regarded coming out of high school and who will play many more years of basketball in the future, as much as it matters to the guys at the end of the bench who will never play another minute of competitive basketball and the fans in the stands who have never played a minute of competitive basketball. These Duke players are not mercenaries, not Duke students in name only. They are student-athletes, coached by a man who restored American basketball to its rightful place at the pinnacle of world hoops, who enjoy playing with one another and take pride in putting on their school’s jersey. If that’s what passes for a villain in college basketball today, then here’s one man’s hope that Duke is never loved.


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Duke in the Final Four

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