Hill keeps No. 1 Duke climbing


DURHAM, N.C. -- When it was announced two weeks ago today that Duke point guard Bobby Hurley would be out up to three weeks with a broken right foot, the rest of the country's top college basketball teams breathed sighs of relief.

Surely, the Blue Devils would slip a few notches without Hurley. They already had lost for the first time this season, the night before at North Carolina. A four-game road trip would continue at LSU, Georgia Tech and North Carolina State.

"You try to make it the best situation for your team," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said earlier this week. "We wanted to turn a negative situation into a positive one."

When the Blue Devils return home to Cameron Indoor Stadium tonight at 8 to play Maryland (10-11, 3-8), things won't have changed much. They are still No. 1 in the country, still in first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference and still with only one defeat.

Duke (20-1, 10-1) has not forgotten about Hurley, but his absence has not been felt nearly as much as many expected. How do you make up for losing the Atlantic Coast Conference's top passer and the team's best three-point shooter? Simple: a 6-foot-8 wunderkind named Grant Hill.

"When I first heard that Bobby's foot was in a cast, I kind of assumed that I would be the point guard, and I got a little nervous," said Hill, who had started the first 17 games at forward. "But my dad [Orioles vice president Calvin Hill] was down here, and we went out to dinner with Bobby. He tried to get Bobby up, and it got me ready to assume the position."

Hill has more than merely assumed the position. He has consumed it. In the three games since taking over for Hurley, Hill has scored 56 points, grabbed 22 rebounds and handed out 17 assists, making only nine turnovers. In that stretch, he has hit 22 of 37 shots to increase his ACC-leading field-goal percentage to .623.

As for the Blue Devils, they have gone through this transition period by almost abandoning their potent transition game for a more stable halfcourt offense. The result is that Duke has averaged close to 20 points a game less than before, but has become a better rebounding team in the process.

"This is going to make them a better team later in the season," Maryland coach Gary Williams said this week. "When Grant Hill broke his nose last year, some other guys had to step in, and they got valuable playing experience. With Tony Lang and Cherokee Parks getting more time this year, it's going to help in March."

With Hill causing all sorts of matchup problems -- aside from Walt Williams, not too many point guards can post up -- and with the ball being pushed inside more to Christian Laettner, Brian Davis and Lang, the Blue Devils are taking on a different kind of personality.

After some shaky moments midway through a 77-67 win at LSU -- the Tigers helped immensely with a horrible day at the free-throw line -- the Blue Devils have dispatched the Yellow Jackets and Wolfpack. Hurley was a fiery floor leader, but Hill is laid-back.

That doesn't mean Duke has any trouble responding to Hill. Earlier this season, coaches and teammates tried to convince him of just how good he was. The injury to Hurley, and the way he has played, has allowed Hill to understand what they were talking about.

"He's so sophisticated off the court, so mature about things, so, naturally, when he's on the court, he's the same way," said Davis. "He's a natural leader."

There is one thing Hill hasn't done since replacing Hurley. He has yet to come out, playing 40 minutes in each of the three games. It's a feat that no Duke player has accomplished since Tommy Amaker, now an assistant coach, did it four straight times at the end of his senior season in 1987.

"He gets a little tired, but we tell him that Christian's done it a thousand times," said Davis.

"I can't wait until Bobby gets back so I can go back to playing my 25 to 28 minutes a game," joked Hill.

The way he has played so far, the opposition probably would prefer Hurley. It's almost like picking your poison.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad