Even Duke couldn't have kept playing as well as Duke had been lately.
The top-ranked Blue Devils had won their first two NCAA tournament games by an average of 41 points. Those were the last two wins in an 11-game stretch that saw them win by an average of 31 points.
So Friday's night's victory over 12th-seeded Southwest Missouri State in the East Regional semifinals by a more mortal 78-61 had some saying Duke looked almost normal.
"Anything would have been a letdown," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of his team's recent play. "We've been playing great basketball, actually unusually great basketball."
Their 30th straight victory may not have been as dominant as the recent streak, but it did get the Blue Devils within a win of the Final Four for the second straight season.
Duke (35-1) will play the winner of the Temple-Purdue regional semifinal game on Sunday at Continental Airlines Arena, a building where it is now 14-1 and from which it has moved to the Final Four half of the eight times the Blue Devils have gone there under Krzyzewski.
"When you bring really great teams into an arena you're going to win a hell of a lot of games," Krzyzewski said. "I should have good records in a lot of buildings."
The latest win came as a result of some good defense by Duke and a solid offensive outing led by Trajan Langdon's 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting.
Langdon, who had a career-high eight rebounds, had missed the last two games of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and the NCAA opener with a sprained foot.
"I was able to practice all week and it feels real good and is responding well," Langdon said.
Southwest Missouri State (22-11), which had used solid defense to beat fifth-seeded Wisconsin and fourth-seeded Tennessee, was down just 39-30 at alftime against Duke. The Blue Devils were up 59-20 at halftime against Florida A&M and 53-23 against Tulsa.
There was no crushing run against the Bears; instead, the Blue Devils just kept steadily pulling away.
Langdon scored the first seven points in a 10-5 run that gave the Blue Devils a 57-42 lead with 12:35 to play.
The lead reached 20 for the first time with six minutes left when Elton Brand made the first of two free throws and Corey Magette tipped in the second for a 68-47 lead.
"I thought their offense was better than our defense in the first half and then we picked it up," Krzyzewski said. "Our defense was good in the second half and we were efficient offensively. Trajan was outstanding and SMS is a very good basketball team."
The Blue Devils failed to reach 80 points for the just the fourth time this season and the first since Dec. 22, a 71-60 victory over Kentucky at the Meadowlands.
"We knew in the back of our minds as coaches that we had to shoot a good percentage and they couldn't," Bears coach Steve Alford said. "The stats were fairly even except for the shooting percentage. That's why they're the number one team in the country, an outstanding team and the best team we've faced all year."
The Blue Devils finished 29-for-58 from the field, just off their season mark of 51.7 percent, which is second in the nation. The Bears were 23-for-62 (37.1 percent).
Brand had 14 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots for Duke, which finished with a 41-35 rebound advantage, while William Avery had 12 points.
|Duke's Chris Carrawell drives past Kevin Ault. (AP)|
"When Trajan gets like that it really takes the pressure off me," Brand said. "When we have that many options it really helps my game a lot."
Allen Phillips had 16 points for the Bears, who were making their first appearance past the first round of the NCAA tournament, while Danny Moore added 15 and William Fontleroy had 10.
"We knew that if we could stay within double figures at halftime we'd have a chance," Bears guard Kevin Ault said. "Their defensive pressure was excellent the whole game."
The victory gave Krzyzewski a 46-12 record in the NCAA tournament, the best among active coaches, and leaves him one win behind John Wooden of UCLA for second place on the career list. Dean Smith of North Carolina is first with 65.
"Once we went up by 22, 23 points I was able to get Elton and Trajan out of there for the last five, six minutes to rest them for Sunday," Krzyzewski said. "We had to do some things in the second hal that we haven't had to because we've been up 30 at that time. We have to get back to clipping coupons."
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