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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT : MIDWEST REGIONAL : Duke Goes After Earl to Handle Iowa, 85-70

From Associated Press

Duke’s strategy for handling Iowa’s pressure defense was simple--let 6-foot-11 Christian Laettner throw the ball over the top and attack.

The Blue Devils made it work, closing the first half with a 13-1 surge and beating Iowa, 85-70, Saturday in the NCAA tournament at Minneapolis to earn their sixth consecutive trip to a regional semifinal.

“Our goal was to break the press. Most teams see (Iowa center) Acie Earl back there, and they don’t want to attack because he’s such a great shot blocker,” said Duke’s Thomas Hill, who sparked the decisive run with a dunk and three-point play.

“Our plan was to attack him. A lot of times we had three-on-ones and two-on-ones. We played good defense in that run, were able to get ball up court and get a few easy baskets. That was good for us going into the locker room.”

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The spurt opened a 44-29 halftime lead, and Iowa (21-11) got no closer than 12 points thereafter. Duke (28-7) will play Connecticut Friday in the Midwest Regional semifinals at Pontiac, Mich., in a rematch of last year’s dramatic East regional final game. In that game, the Blue Devils beat Connecticut, 79-78, on a last-second shot by Laettner.

“If we’re really going to go out and win, we can’t break the press and say ‘Oh, Acie’s there and we’re going to bring it back out,’ ” Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

“We got to say, ‘We’re going to challenge their best player.’ I thought Grant (Hill), Brian (Davis) and Thomas (Hill) especially were great in taking it to the basket in transition.”

Iowa Coach Tom Davis said it wasn’t so much Duke’s ability to break his team’s press as it was the Blue Devils’ defense, which caused 16 first-half turnovers.

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“That was the story of us getting so far behind,” Davis said. “We turned it over so frequently we couldn’t get our offense going. They did a lot of things to disrupt us.”

Laettner led the Blue Devils with 19 points. The second-seeded Blue Devils also got 17 points from Thomas Hill and 14 points and six steals from Grant Hill, the son of former NFL star Calvin Hill.

James Moses scored 17 of his 23 points for seventh-seeded Iowa in the second half, but the Hawkeyes couldn’t overcome their 15-point halftime deficit. Earl added 15 points for the Hawkeyes.

Grant Hill scored five points and Davis four during Duke’s 13-1 surge in the final 4:25 of the first half. The Blue Devils continually broke Iowa’s full-court press with long passes.

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Duke led, 15-5, then Iowa closed to 22-20 with 8:30 left in the first half. But four minutes later, dunks by Grant Hill and Davis got the Blue Devils rolling.

Connecticut 66, Xavier 50--Chris Smith scored 20 points and Xavier, which shot 54% against Nebraska in the opening round, missed 20 of its first 24 shots against the Huskies’ pressure defense.

The 14th-seeded Musketeers (22-10) fell behind, 20-12, and never caught up in their lowest-scoring game since a 61-50 loss to South Florida in 1984.

The Huskies (20-10) entered this year’s tournament with the nation’s third-best field-goal defense (38.9%), and they have done even better in their first two games. They held Louisiana State to 32% shooting in the first round, and Xavier hit only 35% from the field.

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Jamie Gladden, Xavier’s leading scorer and a 52% shooter, made only three of 11 shots. Teammate Michael Davenport was three for 13. Xavier guard Jamal Walker was hampered by a foot injury and played only six minutes, all in the first half.

Brian Grant led the Musketeers with 16 points, and Rod Sellers had 18 points for Connecticut.

Smith scored seven points during a 14-6 spurt that gave Connecticut a 36-24 halftime lead.

Gladden’s three-pointer capped a 9-4 run that cut the Huskies’ lead to 53-42 with 6:46 to play. But Connecticut scored the next eight points--six by Smith--and never led by less than 16 the rest of the way.

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