Injuries concern for three teams

Tuesday, March 30, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:20 p.m. CDT, Saturday, June 28, 2008

ATLANTA — Saddled with a bum ankle, B.J. Elder limped during warm-ups, limped through 12 scoreless minutes, then limped back on the court to celebrate Georgia Tech’s first trip to the Final Four in 14 years.

In Phoenix, Connecticut All-America center Emeka Okafor had two points in the regional final because of an elbow stinger.

Duke held off upstart Xavier in Atlanta with point guard Chris Duhon clearly hobbled by sore ribs.

Still, all three teams survived over the weekend and moved on, hoping the wear and tear of a long season will not keep them from winning a national championship.

Oklahoma State, the fourth team to advance, is healthy, but the others have nearly a week of rest before the Final Four.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski knows he needs Duhon at his best.

“We can’t win at this level without him right now,” Krzyzewski said. “I thought he’s getting a little more confidence. You can tell that he’s missed his practice time.”

Okafor is the same situation. Earlier this season, he suffered a stress fracture in his back, an injury that forced him to miss the first two games of the Big East Conference Tournament.

Now, he has another ailment. Alabama’s Jermareo Davidson fouled Okafor hard during the first half of the final of the Phoenix Regional. Because the Huskies were in firm control, Okafor sat out the final 16½ minutes.

He skipped a light practice Monday to have an MRI on his neck and right shoulder, and the results were negative, Connecticut spokesman Kyle Muncy said.

Okafor is expected to resume practicing Tuesday and should be ready for Saturday’s semifinal against Duke.

The same goes for Elder. He started Sunday against Kansas but missed his two shots.

“I wasn’t near 100 percent,” he said. “I had to go out there and give it a go for the team. I wasn’t able to make the plays that I usually make. I just tried to be there for the guys.”

Duhon was the only one of the three injured stars who played his normal allotment of minutes in the regionals. He wore a protective wrap under his jersey, about the only consideration to his sore ribs.

He was injured when he fell into a stanchion holding a TV camera during the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

“It’s tough to play with that wrap,” he said. “It kind of limits your movement a little bit. Chasing guys going over screens, you’re constantly getting hit each possession on the defensive end. It’s a tough job, but I’ll do it any time.”

His scoring was down in victories against Illinois and Xavier, he averaged five points, about five below his average, but his defense was as sharp as ever. He held the Illini’s top scorer, Deron Williams, to seven points on 3-of-13 shooting, and alternated on Lionel Chalmers and Romain Sato of Xavier.

Neither had an easy time: Chalmers finished 6-of-16, and Sato made 2-of-10 shots.

“He’s been a lockdown guy all season, and he’s made every guy he’s ever guarded work for his points,” said J.J. Redick, Duke’s leading scorer. “It just shows how courageous he is and how important it is to him for us to win.

“He’s putting everything on the line for us, and we’ve got to do the same for him.”

Oklahoma State hasn’t had a starter miss any time all season with injures, and only reserve Terrence Crawford, who has a sore knee, has been affected.

That’s a good thing, too. The Cowboys aren’t deep on the bench, four of their five starters average about 30 minutes, and they hardly could afford to lose someone.

Of the four teams in San Antonio, Georgia Tech is by far the deepest. The Yellow Jackets got solid production from their reserves in three close games in the tournament, and that continued in the overtime victory against the Jayhawks on Sunday.

Clarence Moore had 14 points, six rebounds and five steals. Will Bynum scored eight, including a go-ahead 3 late in the extra period, and Isma’il Muhammad finished with eight points and nine rebounds.

“We never stopped believing, even when B.J. went out of the game,” Muhammad said. “We knew we were a good team and we could pull this out with or without B.J. That was the most important part of our belief.”

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