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Game for the ages

Duke-Kentucky in '92 produced high drama

Posted: Monday July 16, 2007 10:49AM; Updated: Wednesday July 18, 2007 11:38AM
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Christian Laettner, who may have deserved an earlier ejection, launches the shot that beat Kentucky in the East Regional.
Christian Laettner, who may have deserved an earlier ejection, launches the shot that beat Kentucky in the East Regional.
AP
Best Game I've Ever Seen
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By Alex Wolff

Editor's note: We asked SI.com writers to share their memories from the best game they've ever seen. Here are their stories:

The best game I've ever seen has to be Duke's 104-103 defeat of Kentucky in the final of the 1992 NCAA East Regional, the game in which Christian Laettner took that baseball pass from Grant Hill and torqued home the winning jumper.

I'm not choosing it lightly. By my reckoning, a game for the ages has criteria to meet:

Prominent protagonists. Duke and Kentucky were two of the late-20th century's great college powers, each headed by a generational standout coach: Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino, respectively.

High stakes. As if a trip to the Final Four weren't enough, the Blue Devils were trying to repeat as NCAA champs. The Wildcats featured a core of humble seniors desperate to bring UK all the way back from a humiliating probation.

A hero. Ideally (as any movie critic will tell you) one who isn't pat and one-dimensional. Couldn't do better than Laettner -- Mr. Bad Boy/Good Boy: Earlier in the game, he had picked up a technical for planting an unprovoked foot on the chest of a supine Aminu Timberlake -- yet, in every other respect, he was exemplary on this night, never missing from the line or the field.

Drama. The final minutes were sheer can-you-top-this. A double-clutch, spun-off-the-backboard shot in the lane from Kentucky's Sean Woods -- the kind of shot that has coaches murmuring "No no no yesssss!" -- seemed to have won it for the 'Cats with a few ticks left on the clock. In fact, that was a mere prelude to Hill's heave to Laettner, a play Krzyzewski could calmly draw up because the Dookies actually practiced it.

Aftermath buzz. The game produced fodder to keep the talk shows alive for days. Should Laettner have been tossed after l'affaire Timberlake? Did the emotional drain from that game explain why Duke slogged unimpressively through its two games in Minneapolis the following week while pulling off their repeat? Then there's the question that is still hashed over at coaching clinics and in press rooms 15 years later: Do you put a defender on the inbounds pass, or use an extra man to defend the forecourt? Pitino chose the latter ... because at Providence, he had lost a game when his Friars DID defend the inbounds pass.

My own perspective from a seat courtside at Philadelphia's Spectrum that night was colored by how we members of the press couldn't get an outside phone line. That only underscores the sense that, for at least a couple of hours that night in March, we had all left this earthly realm for some distant and rarer place.

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