A career is complete, a legacy is secured, Duke is king and it all seemed as if it was supposed to end like this.
Taking the same championship road it took on its title run of 1992--Greensboro, Philadelphia, Minneapolis--Duke defeated Arizona, 82-72, to win the national title Monday night before a crowd of 45,994 at the Metrodome.
The particulars are these: Duke finished the season 35-4. Shane Battier, the senior forward who refused to let Duke slide after three players turned pro following the 1999 title-game loss to Connecticut, refused to let Duke lose Monday.
With the Blue Devils holding a 71-68 lead, Battier scored his team's next three baskets.
The first was a slam dunk on a follow shot, and the last was a slam off an across-the-lane pass from Jason Williams.
But it was the shot in between that had you thinking the basketball gods were not going to let Battier leave without a championship.
The shot came with 3:38 left, off teammate Mike Dunleavy's miss. Battier contorted his body and tapped the ball in off the back of his hand.
"I believe in guardian angels," Battier said later.
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski was quick and correct with his assessment: "It was one of the great plays I've seen in a championship game."
The basket extended the lead from three to five, and Arizona never got closer.
Williams' three-point shot with 1:45 left put the game out of reach at 80-72.
And shortly after began the royal celebration. As the clock ticked down, Battier's brilliant career flashed before him.
"I was trying to take it in," Battier said. "I couldn't believe it. Words can't do justice for what I was feeling."
Battier is a rare bird among college superstars: He finished what he started.
The senior did not want to leave Duke without bequeathing a third national title for Krzyzewski, who was 2-4 in title games entering play Monday.
"It's the best way to go out," Battier said. "It's my present to him. Coach is the best. He's a friend, mentor and brother."
Krzyzewski isn't one to dwell on his legacy, but Monday night's victory puts him in rare company.
He now has three national titles, tying him with Bob Knight on the all-time list. Only John Wooden, with 10, and Adolph Rupp, with four, have more championships.
"When I look back, I'll add some depth to the past," Krzyzewski said of his legacy. "But I just try to focus so much on the year. I love coaching these kids. They gave me their hearts and minds."
As for those basketball gods . . .
Let's just say the pieces fell into place for Duke.
Mike Dunleavy, who had been in a shooting slump, made three consecutive three-pointers early in the second half to extend a three-point lead to 11. Dunleavy finished with a team-high 21 points, three more than Battier and five more than Williams.
Arizona Coach Lute Olson knew his defense couldn't stop all the shots in Duke's arsenal.
"Pick your poison," Olson said.
Arizona extended its defense to control Williams and Battier, and it worked. Battier made only one of five three-point attempts and Williams was two for 11.
But that left open shots for Dunleavy.
"People say you stop Shane and I and you can beat Duke," Williams said. "But we're so much bigger than that."
Before the game, Dunleavy said he spoke to his father Mike, the Portland Trail Blazer coach.
"He wished me good luck," Dunleavy said. "I received some."
During the net-cutting ceremony, Dunleavy climbed the ladder and kissed the rim.
"That was a basket that was good to me," he said.
The rims weren't nearly as kind to Arizona guards Jason Gardner and Gilbert Arenas.
While center Loren Woods was a dominating force, finishing with 22 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, and forward Richard Jefferson added 19 points and eight rebounds, Gardner and Arenas combined to make only six of 28 shots.
Arenas was clearly suffering from a bruised chest, suffered in Saturday's semifinal victory over Michigan State.
According to Olson, Arenas could not lift his right arm above his head at Sunday's practice.
Arenas missed all four of his three point attempts, and Gardner was 0 for 8 behind the arc.
Duke also had some karma working midway through the first half.
Williams, who had picked up two fouls in the first five minutes, literally fell on Gardner's back during a scramble for a loose ball near midcourt, but the officials did not nail Williams for his third foul with 9:12 left.
"I was very surprised I didn't hear a whistle," Williams admitted.
Olson was irate. After the game, he huffed "I thought we fouled Williams out twice."
Krzyzewski said he believed there was no call because Williams was trying to avoid the foul.
Williams did pick up his fourth foul with 9:23 left in the game, and flirted more than once with his fifth, but he survived to deliver his knockout three-pointer in the last two minutes.
To his credit, Olson didn't belabored the alleged non-calls on Williams.
He was gracious in the end. Had his guards been on their games, as they were against Michigan State, Olson might well have been cutting down the net on his second championship.
Instead, the season Lute Olson hoped would never end is over, and now comes the hard part.
Now comes the first off-season without his wife, Bobbi, who died of cancer Jan. 1
Now come the empty moments, with no basketball to occupy his mind.
This is time Olson is glad to be surrounded by a large family.
"They'll make sure the ol' man isn't by himself too much," he said.
You could wonder what the basketball gods had against a widower and his courageous team, which aged more than a year during an emotional, 28-8 season.
"It's all about growing up," Woods said. "We came to college as boys, we leave as men."
Jefferson said he watched how Olson and family handled their grief this year and determined, "That's the way you want to raise your family."
Olson learned some hard life lessons.
"There are some things you don't want to have to learn," he said of his wife's death. "All of us have things happen to us that we have to be willing to accept have happen."
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BY THE NUMBERS
3 National titles for Duke
2 National titles for Duke won in Minneapolis
3-0 Duke's record against Pacific 10 in tournament
2-1 Arizona vs. No. 1 seeds in tournament
18 Points by Mike Dunleavy in second half
18.2% Arizona three-point shooting (4 for 22)
45,994 Attendance for the final
20-17 Arizona fouls-Duke fouls
10 Equals smallest margin of victory for Duke in tournament
Arizona's dynamic duo of Gardner and Arenas totaled 17 points on six-of-28 shooting. S3
Objectivity behind the microphone definitely was not a necessity during CBS telecast. S3
Dufresne says Krzyzewski's third title probably moves him past his mentor. S4
Dunleavy triggered Duke's second-half burst with three three-point baskets. S6