Baylor Falls to Duke in Elite Eight

By Chris Duncan
|  Sunday, Mar 28, 2010  |  Updated 8:00 PM CDT
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March Madness in Photos: Duke Wins

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Guard LaceDarius Dunn #24 of the Baylor Bears reacts during a 78-71 loss against the Duke Blue Devils during the south regional final of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Reliant Stadium on March 28, 2010 in Houston, Texas.

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Baylor's road of recovery ended one win shy of the Final Four.

The Bears lost 78-71 to Duke in Sunday's South Regional final, a disappointing finish to an amazing NCAA tournament run for a program shattered by murder and scandal seven years ago.

Baylor (28-8) used feisty defense to stay close, and led 61-60 after Ekpe Udoh's floater in the lane with 3:53 left. Duke's Lance Thomas grabbed an offensive rebound and passed to Nolan Smith for a 3-pointer after that, and the Blue Devils never trailed again.

Baylor couldn't quite crash the Final Four, but what a journey it's been to get so close.

The program was in shambles after the summer of 2003, when a player was killed by a teammate and former coach Dave Bliss was caught in a web of lies and illegal payments.

Coach Scott Drew took on the challenge of rebuilding Baylor from the ashes, and used Duke as the model for what he wanted the program to be, from the victories to the clean-cut image.

The Bears are obviously getting there, but they're still not the Blue Devils, who'll make their 11th Final Four appearance under Mike Krzyzewski.

LaceDarius Dunn scored 22 points, Udoh added 18 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks and Tweety Carter added 12 points and four assists for the Bears, picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 12 last fall by the league's coaches.

Carter and center Josh Lomers are the only seniors in this group, so the Bears certainly won't be underestimated next season, after its deepest tournament run since 1950.

Baylor beat Sam Houston State and Old Dominion to earn a berth in the round of 16 in Houston, less than a 4-hour drive from Waco. Riding momentum from a roaring crowd of fans clad in green and gold, the Bears overwhelmed St. Mary's 72-49 in Friday's regional semifinal.

Their followers were out in full force again Sunday, drowning out the lone section of Duke fans, but the noise didn't faze the Blue Devils, who long ago got used to the role of the villain in hostile environments.

Duke finally pulled away in the closing minutes, controlling the boards and hitting some of the open shots that weren't falling earlier against the Bears' sticky zone defense.

The Bears huddled on the court moments after the final buzzer, then waved to misty-eyed fans as they walked off the court. Considering where this program was in 2003, they should hold their heads high.

Carlton Dotson pleaded guilty to fatally shooting teammate Patrick Dennehy and is serving a 35-year prison term for murder.

The death opened up a scandal that led to the resignation of Bliss, who was caught on tape trying to portray Dennehy as a drug dealer. The school also determined Bliss improperly paid up to $40,000 in tuition for Dennehy and another player and solicited money from boosters.

The school imposed harsh penalties, and the team's top three scorers were allowed to go to other schools under relaxed transfer rules.

Drew plunged into the job anyway, and convinced Louisiana prep stars Dunn and Carter to come help. They turned away interest from other programs in much better shape and blossomed into one the top backcourts in the nation.

The 6-foot-10 Udoh completed the puzzle for this season, transferring from Michigan. He earned top newcomer and best defensive player honors in the Big 12 after breaking the league's single-season record for blocked shots.

Baylor couldn't beat Duke and finish the dream run in Indianapolis, but how far the Bears have come.

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