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Atlanta notebook: A defensive gem

Atlanta notebook: A defensive gem
By Ken Davis, Special to Yahoo! Sports
March 24, 2006

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Regular-season highlights: Texas LSU

ATLANTA – Garrett Temple might have been the only one in the Georgia Dome Thursday night who remembered he was called for a foul 23 seconds into LSU's victory over Duke.

In the big picture, it was an insignificant play, one that won't be featured in any highlight packages. But for Temple, a freshman guard who drew the defensive assignment on national player of the year candidate J.J. Redick, it created a huge decision.

He could back off his instructions, play it safe and forget about aggressively guarding the Duke sharp-shooter. Or he could stay with the LSU game plan, chase Redick all over the floor, keep him from getting good looks – and hope the officials let both teams play.

Guess which option Temple selected? The final score might offer a clue: LSU 62, Duke 54.

Temple played all 40 minutes against the No. 1 seed in the Atlanta Region. He scored three points, missed five of the six shots he attempted, and had only two rebounds. But if you are listing reasons why the Tigers are still alive – and in the Elite Eight for the first time since 1987 – Temple's defensive effort on Redick better be near the top.

"It seems that he doesn't like being bumped. You know what I'm saying?" Temple said as he enjoyed the victory with teammates in the LSU locker room. "I pushed him a little bit, but the referees were letting us play, so I wasn't going to stop what I was doing because I was doing a pretty good job on him."

Pretty good? Teammate Magnum Rolle said Temple deserved defensive player of the year honors.

Redick finished with 11 points, matching his season low set against Temple. He was 3-for-18 from the floor, hitting three of nine three-point shots. He matched a season low at the free throw line, going 2-for-2 – and those shots didn't come until 30 seconds remained in the game.

"We knew we had to not let J.J. Redick get into the rhythm of offense," LSU coach John Brady said. "We were going to double team him on every ball screen. Garrett was going to follow him around and force him off different sides of the double screens coming out of the lane.

"We got good hedge, and if there was ever any doubt that J.J. was going to break clean, we were going to run somebody else at him, even if it allowed two people to guard him and somebody else to go free."

Coaches love to "cut the head off the snake" and that's what Redick's ineffectiveness meant to the Blue Devils, the first No. 1 seed to exit this tournament. With Redick struggling, Duke's offense was left in the hands of forward Shelden Williams, and his 23-point effort wasn't enough.

The 54 points was the fewest the Blue Devils had scored since Jan. 10, 1996 when Wake Forest defeated Duke 57-54 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke trailed 31-27 at halftime, marking the lowest scoring first half of the season for the Blue Devils. They were then held to 21.2 percent shooting in the second half, their lowest percentage for a half this year.

Duke had shot at least 40 percent from the field in every game this year but was held to 27.7 percent by the Tigers.

"Garrett Temple did a wonderful job, but other players also did a wonderful job carrying out the plan," Brady said. "That may have been the best defensive effort that we have had or that I've seen one of my teams have."

Brady said earlier in the week that he was considering several options against Redick. But that was just a smokescreen, something for Duke and coach Mike Krzyzewski to read in the morning papers.

After the game, Brady admitted Temple was his guy all along.

"He didn't tell me until Monday, but I knew I was going to guard him right after we beat Texas A&M [in the second round]," Temple said.

Temple is one of five Baton Rouge natives on this LSU team, and one of seven players from Louisiana. They are young, they are athletic and they are leaving their mark on this tournament.

"We could have had a better offensive game, there's no question about that," Krzyzewski said. "But LSU had a lot to do with that."

Redick was 2-for-7 and had six points in the first half. His frustration increased in the second half as Temple refused to back down, pushing and pulling and doing anything else he could do without fouling out. At one point, Krzyzewski tried to calm Redick by bringing him to the bench.

"He just told me to take 30 seconds, take a little break and go back in there and take my shot," Redick said. "Coach has always said that as long as we are taking our shots, he's OK. He'll walk arm in arm with us off the floor."

Redick left the floor with tears rolling down his face. He finished his career with 2,769 points, 16th all-time in NCAA history. He finished the season with 139 three-point baskets, the fifth highest single season total ever. And next week, he is likely to win one or more national player of the year awards.

But he leaves Duke without a national championship. The NCAA tournament wasn't even remotely kind to him. In the 2003 regional semifinals, he scored five points on 2-of-16 shooting in a loss to Kansas. In 2004, he had just 13 points against Xavier in a regional final and lost to UConn in a national semifinal. Last year, Redick was 4-for-14 and scored 13 points in a Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State.

Long after the game was over, the Duke locker room was empty except for a circle of reporters gathered around Redick. Still in his uniform, Redick offered no excuses. He just put into words what everyone had seen.

"Just the physicality of the game," Redick said when asked what made things so tough against LSU. "It was just a real physical game. It was difficult for either team to get good looks. It was just a defensive battle. And they just made more plays than us."

ANOTHER SHINING MOMENT

Texas guard Kenton Paulino had never hit a game-winner at the buzzer. He picked a great time for his first. Paulino's three-point shot left his hands with 0.8 seconds left on the clock and gave Texas a 74-71 victory over West Virginia Thursday night.

Just like that, Paulino becomes part of NCAA tournament folklore – one of many dramatic moments in the history of this event. And just like that, Texas advanced to the Elite Eight to play LSU in Saturday's regional final.

"I can remember my junior year when I missed a game winner at Wake Forest," Paulino said. "But I never made a game winner.

"I haven't thought about [what it means to the Texas program]. I'm just glad the shot went in. I really haven't thought about the importance of this. I'm just living in the moment."

West Virginia's Kevin Pittsnogle tied the score at 71 on a three-pointer with five seconds remaining. Texas coach Rick Barnes had told his players not to call timeout if the Mountaineers tied the game.

"We said if they make a three, we're going to get it out quick and run the transition game," Barnes said. "I told A.J. [Abrams] to push it. That means that we're going to run somebody right down the middle of the floor. We told them to push it right on top of them. And did a real nice job of executing."

Said West Virginia coach John Beilein: "It was a tough way to go, but that's the NCAA tournament."

HIGH PRAISE

Pittsnogle led West Virginia with 19 points, and forward Mike Gansey contributed 18 more on 6-for-12 shooting. Gansey played the last two weeks with abdominal and leg cramps, but he impressed Barnes with his effort Thursday night.

"I told him after the game I am not sure if I ever coached against a tougher, more determined kid," Barnes said. "I know he's not 100 percent healthy. I could tell watching him throughout the game. But Mike Gansey just competes."

Ken Davis, a longtime college basketball writer for the Hartford Courant, is covering the Atlanta regional exclusively for Yahoo! Sports.


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Updated on Friday, Mar 24, 2006 3:01 am, EST

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