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Laettner's shot stuns Kentucky

Christian Laettner's jumper as time expires gives Blue Devils NCAA East title.

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 17, 1999


Had Christian Laettner blocked Sean Woods' shot, the game would be remembered merely as one of the greatest in NCAA Tournament history.

But Woods, who had driven around Bobby Hurley, put up a right-handed 13-footer that barely made it over the fingers of Laettner's outstretched arm, caromed off the backboard and into the basket.

And so it was left to Laettner, with assists from Duke teammate Grant Hill and Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, to elevate one moment to mythic proportions. Laettner's 17-foot shot as the buzzer sounded gave Duke a 104-103 overtime victory in the East Region championship at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.

"I can't speak for any other game in the past," Hurley, Duke's playmaker, said in the tumultuous locker room, "but this is the best game I've ever been a part of in my life."

And Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski added: "I thank God I was a part of it."

It was a reprise of Laettner's last-second overtime game-winner in the 1990 East Region championship to beat Connecticut.

Laettner was virtually flawless. He hit all 10 field-goal attempts and all 10 free throws. The only smudge came in the second half when he planted his foot on the chest of fallen UK forward Aminu Timberlake to send a signal because "he was submarining me."

The drama began approaching critical mass with 2 minutes, 42 seconds to play in overtime when Hurley's three-pointer tied the score at 96.

John Pelphrey's layup put Kentucky on top by two with 2:17 remaining.

Laettner's two free throws tied it again 24 seconds later. And his 8-foot jumper with 31.5 seconds on the clock -- and :01 on the 45-second clock -- put Duke ahead 100-98.

With 19.6 seconds remaining, Jamal Mashburn's shot from the left baseline, and a free throw when Antonio Lang fouled him, gave Kentucky a 101-100 lead.

Just 51/2 seconds later, Laettner, fouled by Mashburn, hit both free throws for a 102-101 Duke lead.

Kentucky called time out with 7.8 seconds to go. During the break, Krzyzewski said afterward, "Bobby was saying, "If they score, remember to call a timeout.' I didn't say it. He said it."

Woods then made his shot over Laettner to put Kentucky ahead 103-102 with 2.2 seconds left. Duke called time out with 2.1 seconds to go.

Krzyzewski gathered his players. "I just said, "We're going to win.' Whether you completely believe it or not, you have to have the expression on your face and the words in your mouth that we're going to get a good shot to win."

Pitino made the fatal mistake of not guarding Hill's inbound pass.

"I remember I kept saying to myself, "Just get a good shot up,' " Laettner recalled several years later. "I was worrying about catching the ball more than anything."

Laettner, his back to the Duke basket, jumped and caught Hill's 80-foot overhand pass.

"It was a smooth delivery," he said. "I didn't know what I was going to do with it until I got it."

Laettner turned, dribbled once and faked to his right.

The clock read 0:02.

He turned to his left, jumped and released the shot.

The clock showed 0:01. The ball went through the hoop.

The clock read 0:00.

Pandemonium.


-- Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

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