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March 22, 2006

'Big Baby' ready to shine against Duke

ATLANTA - Glen Davis peered tentatively around the curtain, as if he was shy about appearing on the national stage.

Then he opened his mouth.

LSU's behemoth of a center is rarin' to get it on with top-seeded Duke at the NCAA's Atlanta Regional, where he'll get a chance to prove he's one of the best players in the country and a worthy successor to another mountain of a man who once wore the purple and gold.

From the Big Aristotle to the Big Baby.

''I want to have my own stamp of immortality,'' Davis said Wednesday. ''Every guy strives for immortality, wants to live forever.''

Well, that one may be a little tough to pull off. But he's certainly done enough to escape the shadow of Shaquille O'Neal, who patrolled the middle for the Tigers back in the early 1990s.

Already, Davis has taken LSU farther than Shaq ever did. In three straight NCAA appearances, O'Neal's teams never made it past the second round. Big Baby - a once-derisive moniker that Davis acquired while playing football as a youngster - will lead the fourth-seeded Tigers (25-8) into the regional semifinals Thursday night against Mike Krzyzewski, J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams and the rest of the powerful Blue Devils (32-3).

So, enough with that talk about being ''Baby Shaq,'' a natural offshoot of a nickname that Davis landed after bringing his 6-foot-9, 310-to-320-pound frame (''depending on what he ate the night before,'' coach John Brady quipped) to Baton Rouge.

''I hear it everywhere I go,'' Davis said during his highly entertaining, much-too-brief time in the interview room. ''I should have worn my shirt. It says, 'I am not Shaq.'''

With that, Davis was off and blabbering, sounding more and more like O'Neal with every witty line.

''Shaq is going to live forever,'' the sophomore said. ''I can't live forever being Baby Shaq. I want to be my own guy.''

If he can stand one more comparison, Davis has put up some Shaq-like numbers this season, especially down the stretch.

OK, he can live with that.

''We've got a couple of similarities,'' Davis conceded. ''We like to dominate. But that's about it.''

Davis has scored more than 20 points in six of his last nine games. He started the NCAAs with a 22-point, 13-rebound, six-block performance against Iona, then came through again with 21 in a second-round victory over Texas A&M. He'll have to be equally dominating if the Tigers are going to pull off an upset of the Blue Devils.

''He basically carried us on his shoulders,'' teammate Darrel Mitchell said. ''He showed up big for us and he's just a special guy.''

Duke has a few special guys of its own, led by Redick and Brown.

Redick is a leading candidate for the player of the year award, leading the Blue Devils with 27.2 points per game despite all sorts of gimmicky defenses designed to keep the ball out of his hands.

Then there's Brown, a 6-9, 250-pound defensive demon (he paces Duke in rebounds, blocks and steals) who also happens to be a pretty good offensive player (18.7 per game). He and Davis both look at this as their stiffest test of the season.

''He's an incredible player,'' Williams said. ''Somebody that size, who moves as well as he does, it's just amazing to watch. I know it's going to be a very physical game in the low post throughout the whole course of the game. I know we both are prepared for that, and hopefully we'll play the game without any injuries going on.''

Davis has no intention of backing down.

''I am trying not to get too excited because a guy like me, who is kind of low on the radar, is licking his chops right now because this is an opportunity to show the world that you can play,'' he said. ''I am seizing the opportunity that I have to compete against one of these elite players. Me being the competitor that I am, I am loving this. This is what you dream of.''

While Coach K was reticent about discussing the head-to-head matchup, it's clear that Duke will be in good shape if Williams plays Davis to a draw. LSU - and few other teams, for that matter - doesn't have anyone who can match Redick from the outside.

The senior guard is shooting better than 46 percent from the field, even though nearly half his attempts have been outside the 3-point arc - and everyone in the building knows he's going to shoot.

''If you just focus on J.J., just watch him, you'd be shocked at the maze of things that he usually has to go through to get a shot,'' Krzyzewski said. ''When you are doing that, there are times when you can get distracted or get down or get emotional about it, which would take away from your next play. So, one of the key words for J.J. is maturity.''

Redick also has learned to cope with the persistent wrath of hecklers. A player with attitude, he's always been a convenient target for those who long since grew tired of losing to Duke year in and year out.

''There's a fine line with Duke. You either love us or hate us,'' Redick said. ''I have basically heard everything you can say about me or my family or my sexual orientation or my poetry or whatever. Now, it's just kind of comical to me.''

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