ATLANTA -- LSU's season began with a series of selfless acts, helping fellow citizens flooded out of their homes by the winds and rising waters of Hurricane Katrina.
So it seems fitting, seven months later, that the Tigers won the biggest game of their lives by committing themselves to each other, to a larger cause, to a defensive strategy to stop Duke's J.J. Redick.
"No team deserves this more after what we had been through," said Davis, one of eight Louisianans on the roster.
Prior to tip-off, there was Davis, nicknamed "Baby" but acting much more like a grown man, gathering his team together at the top of the ramp, just off the Georgia Dome floor, telling them to enjoy the moment, to embrace the opportunity of playing Duke in the Sweet 16.
"We're here, that's what I told them, we're here so let's enjoy this because a lot of people don't get a chance to have these moments," Davis said. "Most would give anything to be in the spotlight we are right now. I wanted all of us to absorb everything."
LSU was like a sponge throughout this game. The Tigers took hits from Duke but never backed down. They were the aggressors, notably on the defensive end. They collectively held Redick to 3-of-18 shooting (3-of-9 on 3s) and only two free throws for a paltry 11 points (his season average was 26.8).
The game plan was simple: Don't let Redick beat them. The Tigers made sure that Garrett Temple was on Redick, and he had plenty of help. Temple's stat line -- 1-of-6 shooting, three points, three assists and two turnovers -- was mostly irrelevant. His role was to D up Redick.
"That's the hardest I've worked for 40 minutes," said Temple, who did play every second of the game. "I had to guard him for 39 minutes [that's how long Redick played] and Duke runs a lot of sets for him to get open."
Temple was the one anointed to hang with Redick, but he was hardly alone. LSU assistant coach John Treloar said the Tigers were instructed that, if Temple showed any signs of trouble, they were to shift the defense to help so that Redick didn't get any open looks. Redick's frustration was visible throughout the game. He was getting bumped but didn't get calls, prompting Duke fans behind the bench to scream, "Where's the Duke conspiracy now?"
"It was a very physical game, but I had a few looks that were good," Redick said. "They didn't go in, but overall, he did a good job of contesting my jump shots, and when I did drive, they had shot-blockers back there."
The help on Redick -- and, for that matter, anyone else who was trying to finish inside -- was evident. The Tigers came out swinging, finishing with nine blocks, five by redshirt freshman Tyrus Thomas. LSU's initiative was to be the aggressor from the outset.
The motivation came from Treloar, who showed the Tigers the same Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas fight from 1990 in Japan that he showed Indiana when he was an assistant under Mike Davis in 2002. The Hoosiers watched that tape before they beat Duke in that season's Sweet 16.
"Douglas took Tyson's best shot, [it] knocked him down, but he got up and wanted it more," Tasmin Mitchell said.
That's kind of the way LSU worked in the second half. Duke made its usual run and was up 45-40 when DeMarcus Nelson missed the second of two free throws. The ball got out to Redick for a 3-pointer but it went in and out. Darrel Mitchell then sped downcourt and converted a trey at the other end. What could have been an eight-point Duke lead was down to two.
The Tigers soon were able to grab the lead back, and then they held on by converting free throws in the final minute, despite their two main big men (Davis and Thomas) playing with four fouls. LSU got contributions from reserves Darnell Lazare (10 points in 18 minutes) and Magnum Rolle (two blocks and plenty of good space-eating D in Davis' absence), who were too athletic for the Blue Devils.
There was one stretch in the second half when LSU had four freshmen on the court -- four freshmen who were able to hang with Duke and win.
"I never thought of this game as a watershed game for me or the program," LSU coach John Brady said. "I never looked at it like that. This was a great opportunity for our program. We just hadn't had the breakthrough game. When I looked at the bracket, I saw we could win the first two games, but then we would have to play Duke. I thought we would have to play them sooner or later. You have to beat the best to be the best."
LSU's work isn't done. It hasn't been for months. But the Tigers have worked together and now the common goal of reaching the Final Four is in sight. All they need is one more win.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.