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UConnquering heroes

Huskies thwart Duke, earn first national championship

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Posted: Tuesday March 30, 1999 09:46 PM

  Up in the air: Neither Richard Hamilton and the Huskies nor Corey Maggette and the Blue Devils ever had a decided edge. AP

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (CNN/SI) -- The prevailing question throughout the 1999 NCAA Tournament has been: Can Duke be denied?

The Connecticut Huskies took a month to find the answer.

Yes.

In a championship game that saw the lead and teams going back and forth at a fevered pace, third-ranked UConn won its first-ever NCAA title with a 77-74 triumph Monday night over the No. 1 Blue Devils, who suffered only their second loss of the season.

Khalid El-Amin hit two free throws with five seconds left after a crucial turnover by Trajan Langdon and UConn hung on to refuse Duke its third national championship of the '90s. UConn's victory also ended Duke's 32-game winning streak and kept the Blue Devils from an NCAA record for wins in a season.

Richard Hamilton led Connecticut (34-2) with 27 points, but it was some tremendous team defense and a big shot and free throws by El-Amin that won it all.

Langdon led Duke (37-2) with 25 points, but Duke's last two possessions ended with him stumbling and making turnovers. And so the Blue Devils fell short of what everyone had expected -- another title.

CNN/SI On-Site
Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins on UConn's keys to victory
When we almost defeated Duke, we shot the ball extremely well. I said 50 percent and above and you have a chance. Connecticut shot better than 52 percent.

I was so surprised by the play of Connecticut's bench. They delivered some big points and the rebounded margin was also a big surprise.

It was just about a perfect game for Connecticut. The Huskies got the five-point lead, but then they got sloppy. But they held on to win one of the greatest games ever.
 

These were the only two teams to hold the No. 1 ranking this season and they played a final game worthy of the two best.

"We're a great basketball team and we beat another great basketball team, the best we played all year, but we're not shocked," Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said. "We truly believed we could beat them. We knew it would be a tremendous challenge, but we knew we could win."

The loss ended Duke's 32-game winning streak and kept the Blue Devils from an NCAA record for wins in a season.

"We lost to a great basketball team. We were beaten tonight, we didn't lose," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

"We picked it up in the second half and we had some opportunities, but they put the pressure on us and were tough to defend," he said. "We got some good looks and had a chance to win, but they made the play and we didn't make the play in the last minute."

Connecticut was able to keep the game at a pace it liked even though most everyone thought the Huskies should try to slow the tempo. The quick pace made for what seemed like constant lead changes, the last coming with 3:50 to play when Hamilton's free throws gave the Huskies a 70-68 lead.

He hit a 3-pointer 21 seconds later for a five-point lead and suddenly Duke was cast in a role it had very little experience playing this season -- the chaser.

William Avery's free throws with 54 seconds left got the Blue Devils within 75-74. El-Amin, whose driving basket had given Connecticut the 75-72 lead, missed on a drive with 24 seconds left -- and suddenly Duke had life.

The crowd of 41,340 at Tropicana Field, where Duke's season ended a year ago in another crushing defeat, roared as the Blue Devils went for the final shot without calling a timeout.

Langdon, the fifth-year senior who made the Final Four in his last chance, tried to get by Ricky Moore, one of the game's best defenders. He spun but Moore was there. Then Langdon took an extra step and was called for traveling with 5.4 seconds to go.

Krzyzewski said there was no thought to calling a timeout.

"I mean we have the whole momentum of the game. We just did a positive thing in stopping them and we've practiced those situations," he said. "We have the advantage then and if we call a timeout we give them a chance to collect themselves."

Moore knew Langdon would be the one to make the play.

  Hyped-up Huskies: Khalid El-Amin's two free throws with five seconds remaining sealed it for UConn. AP

"I heard Coach K telling Trajan to go get the ball and I felt if he got it he wasn't going to do anything with it because it was down to crunch time and it was him against me," Moore said. "I stayed solid and I stayed down and I was right there when he made the spin move. Fortunately, he traveled and we got the ball back."

El-Amin made two free throws with 5.2 seconds left to get the lead back to three, and Langdon's last chance at tying the game ended when he fell near the 3-point line and lost control of the ball.

With that, the Huskies charged the court and claimed the title for their very own.

Not for a second afterward did Krzyzewski second-guess himself on going to Langdon.

"I want Trajan Langdon to take that shot, win or lose with Trajan Langdon. I will walk down any road with Trajan Langdon and I'm proud of Trajan Langdon," he said.

Moore, meanwhile, was out to "shock the world" and he did.

"We really worked hard as a team," he said. "I wanted to come out and prove myself. I wanted to show I have an offensive game as well as a defensive game."

It was Duke's eighth Final Four under Krzyzewski, who was trying to become the fourth coach to win a third national championship.

CNN/SI On-Site
Steve Bartelstein goes one-on-one with UConn coach Jim Calhoun
SB: You told your club you can beat Duke, that you were as good or better than Duke.

JC: I told them very simply that we were at least as good as Duke, and that Duke could do some things that we couldn't do. But I thought that we could do some things that Duke couldn't do. I thought that we must impose our will upon them, make it a fast game and try to wear them out with our defense. I thought we were a deeper team defensively and they were deeper offensively. So I tried to make it a defensive game and tried to wear them down so their offense wouldn't be effective at the end.

SB: You have a spotlight team and Richard Hamilton has been in the spotlight two games in a row for you.

JC: He's been magnificent. We all knew as the games progressed, people would put more and more defensive pressure on him. Tonight, he played against some great, great defensive players and he was absolutely special. He is just a special basketball player.

SB: Ricky Moore also special for you, but your whole club was great defensively.

JC: I thought our rotations were perfect. I just really think we did exactly what I asked our kids to do. You couldn't ask your team to do more. If we had lost the game, I think I would have been very tearful in this locker room because they would have given me everything I possibly wanted. That's all a coach could ever ask.
 

Calhoun, labeled one of the best coaches never to reach a Final Four, finally did, and left the court with a national title in his 27th season, the last 13 at Connecticut.

Duke finishes tied with the 1986 Duke team and UNLV in 1987 with 37 victories. The loss also gives Duke a 2-6 record in national championship games, the victories coming in 1991 and 1992.

This title was the first for the Big East since Villanova pulled off a similar upset in 1985, beating Georgetown.

A jumper by Hamilton gave the Huskies a 65-59 lead with 8:57 left. Elton Brand, the national player of the year who finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds, got Duke right back in it.

Brand blocked a shot by Hamilton then went down and scored on a fast break. He then stole the ball from Edmund Saunders 30 feet from the basket, but missed the free throw when he was fouled. After a basket by Chris Carrawell brought the Blue Devils within 65-63, Brand blocked a 3-point attempt by El-Amin and Langdon made one of two free throws on that possession to make it 65-64.

Hamilton, a first-team All-American who was 10-for-22 from the field and had seven rebounds, finished as the tournament's leading scorer with 145 points in the six games, a 24.1 average. He was the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

Moore scored all 13 of his points in the first half and El-Amin had 12.

Langdon was 7-for-15 from the field, including 5-for-10 from 3-point range, and Avery had 11 points and five assists.

Duke's only other loss was by one point to Cincinnati in November and only four times did a team come within 10 points of the Blue Devils, who led the nation in scoring (92.3) and margin of victory (25.4).

Krzyzewski, who will have hip replacement surgery next week, is second on the NCAA Tournament career victory list with 49.

One of those was in the 1990 regional final when Christian Laettner's buzzer-beater on an inbounds play gave the Blue Devils a 79-78 overtime win over Connecticut.

There was no buzzer-beater this time.

The Huskies finally got revenge in the last tournament of the decade.

 
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Khalid El-Amin wanted to be the one to take the free throws that sealed it (260 K)
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun knew that to be the best, the Huskies had to beat the best (352 K)
Duke lost, but it doesn't change the way Coach K feels about his kids (274 K)
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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