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For Duke's basketball team, 40 minutes of hell arrived a couple of days late, but it was no less hot.

It wore Nevada-Las Vegas red and white. It sizzled. It burned.Vegas held Duke's feet to the fire in the NCAA championship game Monday night and scorched the Blue Devils 103-73 to win the school's first national title.

It was the widest margin of victory in the history of the NCAA championship and the first time the winning team had gone over 100 points. Ironically, the previous high was 98 points in 1964, UCLA over Duke.

From the word go, the Runnin' Rebels owned this one. Just as they had started the season ranked No. 1 in many polls they finished it the same way.

And how.

They shot it. They rebounded. They defended. They dunked.

They turned what had been a nice, neat, competitive tournament into their own private, blistering ending.

``It's obvious,' Duke's Mike Krzyzewski said, ``they were awesome. That is the best a team has ever played against me since I started coaching. I'm in awe of what they did.

``Tonight was not a game of Xs and Os. It was a game of complete focus. There was nothing we could do. They wouldn't let us do anything.'

It was keyed by guards Anderson Hunt and Greg Anthony and an NBA forward masquerading as a college junior - 6-foot-7, 250-pound Larry Johnson.

Hunt hit 12 of 16 shots, including four of seven threes, and scored 29 points. He was voted the most outstanding player, after befuddling and bewildering Duke freshman Bobby Hurley.

Hunt was asked if it was his best game.

``One of the best,' he said.

It's difficult to imagine him being better.

Anthony had 13 points and added six assists, while Johnson powered his way through the Devils for 22 points and 11 rebounds.

As good as Duke had been throughout the tournament, it was hard to imagine it being beaten so soundly.

Believe it.

If Duke plays defense, what does Vegas play?

``The best halfcourt defense in the country,' said Krzyzewski, an answer coming from a coach who knows defense when he sees it.

The Rebels contested everything and came up with 16 steals, an NCAA record. Anthony had five and Johnson four.

``They just would not let us play,' Krzyzewski said.

And the defense keyed the offense. The Rebels shot 61.2 percent for the game, with a passel of those buckets, 32 points in all, coming off those turnovers.

``I think,' said UNLV's Jerry Tarkanian, ``we played about as well as we possibly can.'

The Devils never got into the flow of the offense. Passes went haywire. The inside game didn't exist. The Devils committed 23 turnovers, 11 by guards Hurley and Phil Henderson.

Duke was fortunate to have trailed 47-35 at the half, despite 14 turnovers, poor shooting and no rebounding.

During one stretch, Duke turned the ball over on four straight possessions, twice by Hurley. That was the first indication this would not be Duke's night. Vegas turned that into a 10-3 run and a 21-11 lead.

The margin went as high as 16 in the first half.

The Devils played shell-shocked.

``The first 10 or 12 minutes of the first half,' Tarkanian said, ``we played excellent man-to-man defense.'

But Johnson picked up his third foul and Anthony got his third early in the second half.

Tarkanian said that actually helped.

``We went to our amoeba (zone) defense,' he said, ``and we didn't play it very well in the first half.'

It got better.

As hot as the Devils thought that first 20 minutes of hell had been, the second was something that resembled a blast furnace. It belched fire and brimstone.

Duke scored on its first six possessions of the second half and was still in the game, trailing 57-47 with 16:24 to play. It could have been closer, except for Johnson who stepped out and hit two 3-pointers.

There was no fear of anything for Vegas.

The Rebels went back to the amoeba and it seemed everything was contested - every pass, every shot. If hell has hands, it will be like Vegas' defense.

Over the next three hellacious minutes, UNLV outscored the Blue Devils 18-0.

That's 18-0 in three minutes.

It turned the contest into what it looked like from the beginning - a rout. The Rebels did it in nines.

They ran off nine straight to go up 66-47 and force a Duke timeout. Seven of them came from Hunt.

If Duke thought the timeout solved anything, it was wrong.

After a Henderson turnover, Hunt scored on a breakaway. When Christian Laettner missed a layup, Stacey Augmon converted a rim-rattling dunk to make it 70-47.

Duke screamed for time again.

But the Rebels came out and scored again, on Johnson's drive past Laettner and on Hunt's long, long 3-pointer.

It was 75-47 and Duke's dream of winning its first NCAA title had gone down in flames.

``They wouldn't let us come back,' Krzyzewski said.

``We played some great defense during that stretch,' Tarkanian said. ``For a long period of time, they could not get off a good shot.

``We went back to the amoeba and just destroyed them.'

Duke got 21 points out of Henderson, 15 from Laettner and 14 from Abdelnaby, but Johnson, David Butler and Augmon outscored Duke's frontcourt 56-36 and beat them on the boards 56-38. The Vegas front line hit 24 of 35 shots from the field, good for 68 percent.

But, as Krzyzewski said, this was not a game of Xs or Os or statistics.

``I don't know if you realized what they did tonight,' Krzyzewski said. ``There is a difference between not playing well and a team not letting you play. They didn't let us play.'


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