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Duke Stakes Its Claim For No. 1


It's safe to assume UCLA has seen enough of the Atlantic Coast Conference for one season.

No. 2 Duke made a strong bid to reclaim the nation's top ranking with a 120-84 victory over the 12th-ranked Bruins on Sunday as Trajan Langdon matched his career-high with 34 points to lead a dominating performance that saw the most points ever allowed by the Bruins.

The loss wasn't the Bruins' worst of the season, however, as they fell 109-68 to North Carolina in the Great Alaska Shootout in November.

"(Duke) played probably about as well as anybody we've played going back to the North Carolina game, so that kind of explains why they are the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation," UCLA coach Steve Lavin said. "It shows you what a great conference the ACC is."

"I just told my team we've got to get better. Hopefully, an experience like this will make us better for (NCAA) tournament play. I don't think we'll play in any more of a difficult environment the rest of our season."

Duke (25-2) or No. 3 Arizona, with the nation's longest winning streak, will likely rise to the top of the poll following No. 1 North Carolina's 86-72 home loss to N.C. State on Saturday. It could be Duke's third stint as the top-ranked team this season.

"We still haven't gotten a trophy for the last two times," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said when asked about the possibility of another No. 1 ranking. "We're still waiting for it. All you do at No. 1 is eventually you get beat. That's of little consequence right now."

UCLA (20-6) began playing basketball in 1919 and the most points allowed had been 116 to Stanford in double overtime in 1987.

Duke wasted little time showing it may belong on top again -- five games removed from losing the No. 1 ranking with a 24-point loss at North Carolina. The two ACC powers meet here for a rematch on Saturday.

The Blue Devils scored 57 points on the stunned Bruins in the opening 20 minutes, shooting 56 percent, making 10 of 17 3-pointers and blocking seven shots to go up by 24 points at halftime.

It was the 16th half this season Duke has scored 50 of more points.

"Collectively, Duke was Razor sharp -- defensively, offensively, on the boards, in transition, in their half-court," Lavin said. "They clearly showed why they will be the No. 1 team in the nation."

Roshown McLeod added 23 points for Duke, which ran its non-conference record in Cameron Indoor Stadium to 114-2 since 1983.

"There is no load being carried by anybody on this team," said Langdon, who finished 11-for-16 from the field with five rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes. "We're just so deep and so talented compared to last year."

Kris Johnson led UCLA with 20 points, while Baron Davis added 18 before fouling out with 4:03 left.

UCLA got off on the wrong foot when leading scorer J.R. Henderson picked up three quick fouls an played only five minutes of the first half, sitting out the final 13:23 after being called for an offensive foul.

"We'll never make excuses but J.R. Henderson is kind of the central figure to our team's success and when J.R. Henderson isn't on the floor it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on us," Lavin said. "That's an awful lot of pressure on the road."

Henderson's second half didn't begin any better. Less than two minutes in he was called for another offensive foul as UCLA fell behind by as many as 31 with 15:56 left. Henderson fouled out with 6:43 left, scoring 14 points to break his four-game string of 20-point games.

The Bruins got in a hole early as Langdon was on fire, scoring 21 of his points in the opening half, hitting 5-of-6 3-pointers and 7-of-8 shots overall.

He scored 10 of Duke's first 18 points, including eight in a 19-3 run as the Blue Devils took control of the game -- which had an NCAA tournament type of atmosphere - early on.

"Trajan is quiet but he's as a competitive a kid as we have," Krzyzewski said if his junior guard. "He's a warrior, he's a champion and he played like one today."

The game also marked the return of Duke freshman center Elton Brand, who was sidelined since Dec. 27 with a broken left foot. He entered the game at the 13:58 mark of the first half and grabbed a rebound six seconds later. He scored his first field goal four minutes before halftime and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds in 16 minutes.

Toby Bailey of UCLA scored 17 points to move past Gail Goodrich and into 10th place on the school's career scoring list.

© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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