ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Spring break hadn't been loads of fun in the sun for the Duke basketball team. First there was the ACC tournament, where an unexpected opening-round loss to eventual champion Georgia Tech and an equally unexpected snowstorm ruined last weekend for the Blue Devils.
Then came the announcement of the NCAA tournament pairings. Instead of being sent to Orlando for the Southeast Regional or out West to Tucson, Duke was sent here to play Southern Illinois in this Chicago suburb next to a couple of O'Hare Airport landing strips.
"Frozemont," the players called it.
Maybe it was best for the Blue Devils to be shipped to a place where the only immediate distractions were for their coach, Mike Krzyzewski, who grew up in the city. Maybe it was best that Duke had lost two straight games before beginning defense of its two straight national championships.
Whatever the motivation, Duke raised the temperature quite a few degrees last night. In an awesome display of shooting that helped dispel a few apparently premature rumors of their demise, the third-seeded Blue Devils crushed the 14th-seeded Salukis, 105-70, before a sellout crowd of 17,463 at the Rosemont Horizon.
The victory was its 13th straight in NCAA tournament play and put Duke (24-7) into tomorrow night's second-round game against California (20-8), a 66-64 winner over Louisiana State last night.
"We played really well, our three-point shooting was phenomenal," said Krzyzewski, whose Blue Devils shot 14 of 19 from three-point range, 36 of 57 (63.2 percent) overall. "We shot 73-74 percent on our threes. That's kind of crazy. It made the difference look more than it was."
The margin of victory matched the largest for Duke under Krzyzewski in an NCAA tournament game, equaling a 35-point win over Richmond in the opening round in 1990. It came against a team that was making the school's first NCAA tournament appearance in 16 years.
"You always realize something like this can happen in a basketball game," said Southern Illinois coach Rich Herrin. "We just didn't lay down and quit. I knew they were a good basketball team. They're a better basketball team than I realized."
And Bobby Hurley might be a better shooter than he realized. The senior point guard, who earlier this season broke the NCAA's all-time assist record, put on an eye-opening performance, finishing with 25 points on eight of nine shooting. He was six of seven on threes.
"I thought Bobby felt it right away," said Krzyzewski.
Said Hurley, who also had seven assists: "Usually if I hit a few shots right away, I get confidence. The main reason we were so confident with our offense was our great defense."
There was another reason why the Blue Devils felt the confidence that had been lacking in recent losses to Georgia Tech and North Carolina: the rejuvenation and renewed health of junior forward Grant Hill.
After missing the last six games of the regular season with a sprained toe, after playing tentatively in the loss to the Yellow Jackets, Hill came back with a vengeance last night. It wasn't the fact that he scored 14 points and had five assists in 25 minutes. It was how he looked getting them.
While Duke was hitting 10 straight shots after missing its first two, building its lead to 27-8 after eight minutes, Hill showed why he was an All-ACC first-team selection and third-team All-American, despite missing the last month before the postseason.
"When he scored on that reverse dunk on the fast break," said Hurley, "that let me know that Grant was back."
Said Hill, who was five of eight from the field: "It [the foot] felt pretty good. It felt bad after I sat down, but when I was in there it felt pretty good."
So did Duke, which led Southern Illinois (23-10) by as many as 31 points in the first half, by 26 at halftime and by as many as 38 late in the game. Asked if this was his team's best offensive performance of the season, Krzyzewski said, "It's our best game in two weeks."
Maybe spring break will be fun after all.