EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- This time, it didn't come down to the final minute or the last few seconds. This time, the winner wasn't going to the Final Four and the loser wasn't going home from the NCAA tournament.
This time, Duke and Kentucky played an ordinary game. The second-ranked Blue Devils won easily over the third-ranked Wildcats, 71-60, in the featured game of the Jimmy V Classic doubleheader at Continental Airlines Arena.
The difference between last night and last season, when Duke blew a 17-point second-half lead and lost to Kentucky in the South Regional final at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., was sophomore center Elton Brand.
In March, the Wildcats tired out Brand, who was still coming back from the foot surgery that was supposed to prematurely end his freshman season. Brand fouled out with only four points and two rebounds.
Last night, Brand wore out the Wildcats, finishing with 22 points and eight rebounds, and helped get several of Kentucky's frontcourt players, including Scott Padgett and Jamaal Magloire, foul trouble. Senior guard Trajan Langdon added 18 points.
In March, the Blue Devils had trouble stopping Kentucky after building their lead in the second half. Last night, Duke (11-1) shut down Kentucky (10-2) after scoring the first 11 points of the second half to build its lead back to 16.
"Our kids played really hard," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose Blue Devils come to College Park to face Maryland Jan. 3. "The key for us was our half-court defense. We did a much better job in stopping penetration. We eliminated the easy baskets we gave up in the first half."
They did so because sophomore guard William Avery stopped Kentucky's Wayne Turner from penetrating, as he had done so often last season against Steve Wojciechowski and did again in the first half last night.
They did so because Brand was the dominant player on the court. Seemingly out of Krzyzewski's doghouse that saw Brand removed from the starting lineup for Duke's last two games, the center got the Blue Devils going early and never let up, hitting nine of 12 shots.
"I thought Brand was outstanding, not only on the offensive end, but he gave us such a big presence defensively," Krzyzewski said. "He's a growing player, not the end product. He can become an outstanding player."
There are some things Brand had to learn, such as the pre-game rituals performed by those coming off Duke's bench. Since starting his first game as a freshman last season, Brand had only been in that position after missing 15 games with a broken foot.
"I had to learn things like how the reserves stand until we score the first basket," said Brand.
Duke didn't score its first basket until Brand's dunk ended an 0-for-8 start. But the Blue Devils hit their next five shots, nine of their next 10 and 12 of their next 14 to build as much as a 10-point lead in the first half. Kentucky cut its deficit to five, 39-34, by halftime.
But the Wildcats went ice cold. They didn't score for more than 4 1/2 minutes to start the second half, as the Blue Devils built their lead to 50-34. The Wildcats never got any closer than eight.
"Their kids played very aggressively and they played very hard," said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, who picked up a technical foul in the second half. "We just couldn't get our shots to drop."
Kentucky shot a combined 22 of 63, including three of 16 on threes. Seniors Heshimu Evans and Scott Padgett led the Wildcats with 13 points each, but were quiet for long stretches of the game.
Padgett hit his first shot -- a three-pointer similar to the one that helped beat the Blue Devils in last season's 86-84 overtime win -- but made only two of his remaining seven. Evans, who was so dominant in the win 10 days ago over Maryland, was 5-for-16 last night.
The Wildcats got within 56-48 with 8: 47 to play, but Brand came up with a three-point play.
An Evans three-pointer made it 62-53 with 5: 45 left, but Chris Carrawell laid in a loose ball with 4: 30 left to get Duke's lead back to 11.
Brand had another three-point play 1: 10 later, this one with a layup from a nice pass by Avery.
Avery, who was one of the guards on the court last March in St. Petersburg as the big lead and a Final Four berth slipped away, punched the air as the ball dropped through.
"There was one thing for sure, that we didn't want what happened to us last year to happen again," said Avery, who had seven assists and six rebounds. "So we kept attacking and we played to win. We went to the boards, took away their three and just tried to outrun them."
Last night's game didn't come close to matching last season's classic, and shouldn't even be mentioned in the same story, let alone the same sentence, as the 1992 East Regional final won, 104-103, on Christian Laettner's turnaround at the buzzer in overtime.
The first two games were for the scrapbook. Last night's was one for the scrap heap, especially for the Wildcats.
"It wasn't about pretty tonight," said Krzyzewski. "It was tough to get open shots. If you scored you earned it."
Brand earned it.
Pub Date: 12/23/98