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Freshman's defense dooms Redick

ATLANTA -- Nine seconds remained in the pre-eminent upset of the NCAA Tournament when LSU's Tasmin Mitchell ran to center court, pulled aside his jersey, and pointed sharply at his heart. The message was unmistakable.

The Tigers aren't a team rife with McDonald's All-Americans. They don't play for a school with a gaudy basketball pedigree. They're basically a bunch of kids from Louisiana, most of them from Baton Rouge, united by relentless determination and the belief that their full potential has yet to be realized. And no one personified the LSU grit Thursday night more than freshman guard Garrett Temple.

Granted, there were plenty of heroes as the Tigers upended top-seeded Duke, 62-54, in the semifinals of the Atlanta Regional. Freshman swingman Tyrus Thomas disrupted Duke's inside game all night long, collecting 13 rebounds and blocking five shots. He might be the most underrated player in the country despite his status as SEC freshman of the year.

Sophomore center Glen "Big Baby" Davis inched closer to the immortality he covets by converting the key free throws that put the Blue Devils away. Guard Darrel Mitchell, the team's lone senior, scored 14 points to match Davis for team-high honors. Junior forward Darnell Lazare was huge when Thomas and Davis found early foul trouble, finishing with 10 points. You don't beat the top team in the country on the efforts of one man alone.

Thing is, Temple's contribution to LSU's leap into the Elite Eight won't be found on the Tigers' side of the box score. To appreciate what he accomplished one need look to the Duke half of the numbers, to the shooting line of J.J. Redick, the leading scorer in the Blue Devils' storied history. It's there that the story unfolds.

Redick never found his rhythm while wearing Temple all 40 minutes. He was 3 of 18 from the field, 3 of 9 from three-point range. He looked ragged by the time he finally managed the few open looks that he failed to cash. He took to driving the lane out of frustration, trying to initiate contact, hopeful that at the least he could collapse the defense and kick off to an open man. It never happened. He finished with 11 points and four turnovers in yet another postseason performance he'd rather forget.

Temple, 6-foot-5 and pencil thin, had anticipated this matchup with Redick since the brackets first came out. When LSU beat Texas A&M in the sub-regionals, advancing to the Sweet 16, his brother, Collis Temple III, sent a text message, reminding him the chance was at hand.

"When I was 10 or 11, my AAU coach [Warren Heard] told me I could be a great defensive player," Temple said. "I'm a defensive stopper. That's what I live for. I go after the shooter on the perimeter."

Redick's 11 points matched his season low, fell 16 under his average. The Blue Devils didn't have the firepower to compensate, senior center Shelden Williams being their only other reliable scorer.

"That may have been the best defensive effort that we have had or that I've seen one of my teams have," said LSU coach John Brady. "We knew we had to not let J.J. Redick get in the offense. We were going to double-team him, follow him around, around the double screens that they set for him coming out of the lane. Garrett Temple did a wonderful job, but other players also did a wonderful job of carrying out the plan."

Brady has a point. An individual can't play great defense without help from his friends. At the same time, Redick's surreal knack for getting off his jumper demanded suffocating attention, and that's where he ran into his Temple of doom.

"I told him he gets the game ball for the night," Darrel Mitchell said. "Regardless of who scored the ball or who did what, he gets the game ball. He held J.J. to [11] points. He's the second-leading scorer in the country and for him to hold J.J. to [11] points, it just shows how important he is to this team and how special he is."

Brady had played coy Wednesday, ran misdirection on the subject of who'd draw the Redick assignment. But there was never any doubt.

"I said all that stuff in the paper about maybe we'll guard him with Tasmin Mitchell on him or Darrel Mitchell," Brady said. "That was all -- I didn't mean that. We were going to guard Garrett on him from the beginning. Because those other teams and coaches read the paper a little bit, I think, I said all those things. But it was Garrett Temple guarding him from the jump."

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com