ATLANTA - If the Duke Blue Devils are college basketball's answer to the New York Yankees, the team you love or hate, then Luol Deng, J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams must be akin to Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi.
Deng scored 18 and Redick 17 and Williams, after a slow start, proved too much to handle inside and finished with 14 points to lead the Blue Devils to a 72-62 win against Illinois late Friday night at the Georgia Dome.
"Our kids played an outstanding team tonight," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Illinois was quicker than any team we've played all year. They kept jamming it right at us. We were fortunate to be up by one at halftime ... but in the second half, our perimeter played good defense taking away the 3, and then our big guys finally established themselves inside."
The Blue Devils (30-5) meet surprising Xavier on Sunday for the chance to advance to next week's Final Four in San Antonio. That would be their 14th overall and 10th in the past 19 years.
"Tonight we took a big step," said junior guard Daniel Ewing of Duke getting past the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2001.
"This is the reason I came to Duke," Redick echoed.
The No.5-seeded Fighting Illini (26-7), the Big Ten regular-season champions and winners of 14 of 15 going in, were left to the role of Boston.
And like the Red Sox, they made it difficult.
Duke took its first lead 18-17 on a Redick 3-pointer with 8:07 left in the first half. A few minutes later, a Deng 3-pointer pushed the lead to 29-22.
But before the Blue Devils could take control, sophomore forward James Augustine and junior forward Roger Powell combined for eight straight points to regain the lead for the Illini. A Williams jumper, his second field goal of the half, gave Duke a 31-30 halftime lead.
Illinois' sophomore point guards Deron Williams and Dee Brown shot a combined 2-of-9 in the half. They were 18-of-25 in the second-round rout of Cincinnati.
The Illini also committed seven of its 12 turnovers in the half, two each by Williams and Brown. Illinois had four total against the Bearcats.
Although the Blue Devils effectively went inside to Williams early in the second half, his fourth point-blank field goal gave them only a 50-46 lead. Blame Brown, who hit two 3-pointers and two fastbreak layups to keep his team close.
When it wasn't Brown, it was Powell scoring inside to thwart any Duke run, until a Redick 3-pointer gave Duke a 67-57 lead with 6:25 left. Senior point guard Chris Duhon, who had 10 defensive rebounds and eight assists despite bruised ribs, followed with two free throws, and Illinois didn't threaten again.