PHILADELPHIA -- UCLA had a few answers for Duke last night. The Bruins put Dan Gadzuric on Shane Battier and the All-America forward had trouble shooting over the 6-foot-11 center's long arms. The Blue Devils didn't go on any of their psyche-crushing, game-deciding runs.
But there was still one problem: Fourth-seeded UCLA is still trying to figure out what to do about Jason Williams, who tied a career high with 34 points to lead Duke to a 76-63 victory in the East Regional semifinals at the First Union Center.
Southern California now will have to solve the Williams problem when the Trojans meet the Blue Devils tomorrow night in the regional final.
Williams, a sophomore guard who is quickly proving to be the game's next big star, was at his best in the second half when he scored 19 straight points during one stretch.
The victory was the seventh straight for Duke (32-4), and puts the top-seeded Blue Devils one game away from returning to the Final Four for the second time in three years and for the ninth time under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
USC upset No. 2 seed Kentucky, 80-76, earlier last night.
"Jason's a key. He's the key guy as far as making plays," Krzyzewski said. "We wanted the ball in his hands, and he certainly delivered."
Williams made 11 of 21 shots, including six of 13 three-pointers. At the time he started his run, UCLA (23-9) had cut what had been an 11-point Duke lead to 40-37 on a three-point shot by senior guard Earl Watson with a little under 15 minutes left.
Williams' assault began with a long three-pointer, continued with a lob layup off a feed from sophomore forward Mike Dunleavy and kept going with a combination of threes and power layups, three-point plays and free throws. By the time he was done, Duke had built its lead back to 61-51.
"That little flurry by Jason Williams was the difference in the ballgame," said UCLA coach Steve Lavin.
Not that Battier was held in check by the Bruins. Though he didn't shoot well -- 6-for-14 overall, 2-for-7 on threes -- Duke's senior captain and emotional leader managed to finish with 24 points, 11 rebounds and four steals.
Watson led the Bruins with 17 points and five assists, but both he and Jason Kapono (12 points on 3-for-10 shooting) played much of the second half in foul trouble. UCLA overcame a dismal shooting first half (8-for-31) to shoot nearly 52 percent in the second half, but was undone by 23 turnovers.
"I felt we were lucky to be down only seven [33-26] at halftime because we shot so poorly, but they didn't shoot well either [9-for-31]," Lavin said. "But our turnovers killed us in the second half."
Mostly it was Williams who ended UCLA's hope for a renewal of its rivalry with USC, with the winner advancing to Minneapolis. Even when his scoring streak ended when Battier made a layup to put the Blue Devils ahead by double digits, it was because he got the ball from Williams.
Williams' point total tied former Blue Devils All-American Danny Ferry for the second-most points scored by a Duke player in an NCAA tournament game. Williams still has some catching up to do to reach Jeff Mullins' school record of 43 points, but give him time.
"At different times of the season, Jason and Shane have carried us in big games," Krzyzewski said. "But our defense has had to make big stops. Our defensive boards and some loose balls led to some runs where Jason could score. He's a great player, no question."
Growing up 90 minutes north in New Jersey, Williams idolized Magic Johnson. Then he was told that Johnson had talked with the UCLA players at practice earlier this week, telling them to take it right to the Duke guard. Williams heard about Johnson's talk last night.
"That's disappointing because Magic Johnson was my favorite player -- until now," he said.
Williams might be growing his own legend. Last night might have been the start.