The story of the 2001 championship season began in the spring and summer of 1999. After losing in the 1999 NCAA Final, Duke lost four of its superstars to the NBA which seemingly depleted the team. But after a successful 2000 campaign, which saw the Blue Devils win the ACC Championship, the team returned in the fall of 2000 ready to go all the way.
The Blue Devils started off the season hot by winning the Preseason NIT. In the process Coach K picked up his 500th win at Duke by knocking off Villanova at home. After that game the Cameron Indoor Stadium floor was officially renamed Coach K Court. Throughout November and December the team continued to roll. The three point shot proved to be extremely valuable as on any given possession guards Jason Williams and Chris Duhon, or forwards Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy, and Nate James, could knock down long range jumpers. In a 93-68 win at Temple, for instance, Duke shot 17-30 from three point range including Jason Williams’ 8-10. The Blue Devils looked hard to beat.
In the last game before Christmas break, Duke lined up against Stanford. After leading the whole game, however, the Blue Devils began to lose ground after talented big man Carlos Boozer fouled out. But with Duke still up one point with only a few seconds remaining, Stanford fouled Dunleavy in desperation. Unfortunately, he missed both free throws and Stanford came down and banked in the winning shot stunning the team.
As the new calendar year began Duke regained its form. The team beat up Florida State and Clemson before knocking off North Carolina State. Then, after kicking the players out of a lethargic practice, Coach K had the entire locker room plastered with the word “ATTACK” so the players would understand the upcoming Virginia game plan. The players understood and jumped on the Cavaliers 39-9 before routing them, 103-61.
This string of victories paved the way for one of the great games in Duke history. Playing against Maryland at College Park, the Blue Devils found themselves down 89-77 with 1:05 to go in the game. However, James and Williams outscored Maryland 13-1 to send the game to overtime. In the extra session Battier took over scoring Duke’s last six points and blocking the potential game tying shot at the buzzer. In what people refer to as the “Miracle Minute” game, Duke had beaten Maryland to improve to 19-1.
However, the players carried a false confidence into their next home game against North Carolina. In a game where Boozer scored only 4 points and the team shot under 50% from the free throw line, Duke lost its first ACC game of the year and had quickly come down to earth.
Fortunately, they rebounded and rolled over the next three ACC opponents before again facing 12th ranked Virginia in Charlottesville. Only freshman Duhon had a good game, scoring 20 points as Virginia hit the winning basket at the buzzer to drop Duke’s record to 22-3 and 10-2 in the ACC.
Duke’s victories over St. John’s and Georgia Tech at home featured the retirement of Battier’s #31 jersey. The next game at Wake Forest was special as well since Duhon came back from an injury in the 1st half to knock down the game winning shot at the buzzer.
Duke’s final home game of the year saw a perturbed Maryland team looking for a settling of scores after Battier’s last-minute antics in College Park. Duke led 60-51 with 15:30 left in the second half, but with just under ten minutes remaining, Boozer landed the wrong way coming down from a rebound and fractured his right foot. A stunned Duke team watched as Maryland finished off the Devils with determination, winning on Senior Day, 91-80.
Suddenly the team began to have doubts. Could Duke survive the ACC or NCAA Tournaments without Boozer? Coach K decided that he had to completely change the team’s strategy so that they could compensate for the big man’s loss. By shifting to a running offense, the team would attack for the whole game and make the opponent play Duke’s new style.
Despite being huge underdogs in the last game at Chapel Hill, the Devils came out firing as their new offense surprised the Tar Heels. With Duhon and sophomore Casey Sanders now starting, the Devils ran the Heels into the ground, 95-85, proving that with or without Boozer, they could beat anyone.
In the ACC Tournament, Duke ran over North Carolina State in the 1st round to bring them to their 3rd meeting against Maryland. At the end of another intense game, Maryland’s Steve Blake hit a 3 pointer to tie the game with eight seconds remaining. But Williams flew down the court and, despite a missed lay-up, James tapped in the winning shot. The Blue Devils headed to the finals to face North Carolina once again. In a repeat performance, Duke took a 50-30 halftime lead and ran away to victory and the ACC Championship. The players had bought into the new style with impressive results.
The NCAA Tournament campaign started out well as the Devils easily rolled over Monmouth in the 1st round. Duke then matched up against Missouri, then coached by former Blue Devil star Quin Snyder. The Tigers cut the Duke lead to one point in the 2nd half before the Devils managed to close the game out thanks to a 21-25 performance at the free throw line.
As Duke moved onto the Sweet 16 in Philadelphia to play UCLA, the whole team was back in action. A recovered Boozer came in during the first half and helped spark a 12-0 run. In the second half Williams scored 19 straight points for the Blue Devils to propel the team to a tough 76-63 victory.
Facing USC in the regional final game, Duhon’s clutch three-point shooting in the second half proved to be the key as Duke moved on to the Final Four, beating the Trojans 79-69.
The stage was set in Minneapolis for Duke to battle the Terrapins for the fourth time in a little over two months. Duke trailed by as many as 22 points in the first half before shaking off an 11-point deficit at halftime to complete the biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament semifinal history. Duke took the lead with Williams’ three-pointer, 73-72, with under seven minutes to go in the game, closing out the game 95-84 to advance to the Big Dance.
Only one game remained. Inside the Metrodome on April 2, Duke took on fifth-ranked Arizona Wildcats, the team that had shared top billing with the Blue Devils in the preseason. The Wildcats had endured much to reach this point, including the trauma of coach Lute Olson losing his wife to cancer. Their emotion-filled drive to the Final Four captured the hearts of college basketball enthusiasts everywhere.
The first half was virtually even, ending with Duke up 35-33. Both teams shot about 40 percent from the field and each hit five free throws. Four minutes into the second half, however, Dunleavy hit three-pointers in an 11-2 run that put the Blue Devils up 50-39. Arizona responded with a 9-0 run, but it only took Duke another four minutes to bring the lead back to ten as Dunleavy hit his fifth three-pointer of the game with 10:08 left to play.
When the Wildcats then surged again to make it a three-point game, five minutes to go, there was Duhon with the gutsy drive at Woods for the basket and free throw. Weeks after the title, Krzyzewski called it the biggest basket of the game and lauded Duhon as the unsung hero of the championship drive.
Battier played all 40 minutes, scoring 18 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and handing out six assists. Dunleavy led Duke with 21 points, including a career-high five three-pointers, while Boozer registered a double-double dozen with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
With its 82-72 victory, Duke became the first No.1 ranked team to win the national championship since UCLA in 1995. Led by National Player of the Year and Tournament MVP Shane Battier, the Devils delivered Coach K his third National Championship to the delight of the Duke faithful.