With a little more than 2 seconds left and Duke down by one, Christian Laettner nailed a last-second shot in overtime to beat Kentucky 104-103 and send the Blue Devils to the Final Four for the fifth straight season.
That shot -- 25 years ago -- was the end to one of the best games in NCAA tournament history, an East regional final that also included Laettner going 10 for 10 (31 points) and receiving a technical foul for stepping on the chest of Kentucky’s Aminu Timberlake.
Two games later, Duke won the national championship for the second consecutive year.
Here’s a look back at Laettner’s March 28, 1992 shot against the Wildcats.
These stories originally appeared in The News & Observer on March 29, 1992.
Heaven loves one Devil
By Mickey McCarthy
PHILADELPHIA Christian Laettner dialed heaven, and the Lord answered with the sweetest shot this side of Minneapolis.
If you believe in miracles, you believe in Duke.
It was an unforgettable moment -- a stunning climax in the high-stakes showdown for supremacy in the East Regional.
And the Devils are going to the Promised Land again.
Laettner seized this spectacular game in his meaty paws, turning a moment of desperation into a shot for the ages.
With Duke down a point to Kentucky with two seconds left, Grant Hill flung the ball three-quarters of the court. Laettner gobbled it up, spun around and stuck a dagger into the heart of the Wildcats, just as he had done to Connecticut two years ago. His 17-foot shot tumbled softly into the nets, triggering a Duke hoedown on the court like you’ve never seen before.
The red-faced scoreboard in the musty Spectrum, out of ticks, read: Duke 104, Kentucky 103.
The scrawny Wildcats, short on muscle but long on desire, stood face to face with the champions and never backed down.
They shrugged off a 12-point second-half deficit. Improbably, they took destiny’s team to overtime. And they even seized the lead with four seconds left in the extra period on a tremendous driving basket by Sean Woods.
They did everything but win, but that’s what Duke does best.
The Devils never blinked as the Kentucky firing squad readied and aimed.
Trailing 103-102, Coach Mike Krzyzewski called for a time-out. The Blue Devils huddled, heard the message and never missed a beat. Laettner delivered.
He was magnificent, a cold-hearted warrior on a mission to save the Devils’ hide. He was 10-for-10 from the field, 10-for-10 from the foul line. He was unstoppable, scoring 31 points in 43 minutes of hell.
Grant Hill, the designated pitcher on the final play, called it the greatest game he ever played in. His teammates shared the feeling, rejoicing in the victory but mindful of the great effort by the vanquished.
“Christian just loves that situation, “ said Hill, as much in admiration as in awe. “He wants the ball. He feels like he is going to make it.”
Hill said the thought of losing never entered his mind.
“There was time, “ he said. “Crazy things can happen in a finish like that. It’s a real joy to win this game. Kentucky is a great team. They fought so hard to beat us.”
No one outside Kentucky gave the Wildcats a chance. They have a little team, blessed with good outside shooters but little else. But Kentucky played like a champion. The ‘Cats never quit.
“We are not losers, “ Coach Rick Pitino said. “I am very proud of this basketball team.”
But Coach K was a proud man, too. His Blue Devils, the heavyweight champions, were on the ropes, glassy-eyed, about to be dispatched to the sidelines. But Laettner hates to lose so much that he just refuses to do it.
Laettner and Duke will play another day, against Indiana. Kentucky goes home, its head held high but its hopes in tatters.
Christian Laettner does that to dreamers.
Photo finish> Laettner’s buzzer-beater has Duke back in the Final Four
By Dane Huffman
PHILADELPHIA Maybe a berth in the Final Four is Duke’s birth right after all.
Kentucky did all it had to do to beat Duke, and when Sean Woods drove by Bobby Hurley and banked in a one-handed shot over Christian Laettner, the Wildcats had a one-point lead and Duke had 2.1 seconds.
Then, in a Duke season of magic moments, came a miracle.
Grant Hill flung the in-bounds pass to Laettner at the other end, and Laettner leaped to catch the ball against John Pelphrey and Deron Feldhaus. Laettner faked to his right, turned to his left and lofted a 17-footer that fell through the heart of the net as time expired in overtime.
The Blue Devils (32-2) were East Regional champions and, for the fifth straight year, headed for the Final Four.
Laettner never missed in the game, making all 10 of his field goals and all 10 of his free throws to earn the regional’s Most Outstanding Player award. He finished with 31 points and seven rebounds.
“My heart goes out to the Kentucky kids and staff, “ Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We could just as easily be the losing team. I’m not sure there is a losing team tonight.
“I think we’ve been a part of one of the great games of all time. I’m a little bit stunned.
“How many kids from each team made great plays today? How many pressure threes? We feel very fortunate to have won.”
“We are not losers, “ said Coach Rick Pitino, whose Kentucky team finished 29-7. “I told the guys, ‘Don’t let the two seconds determine your basketball life.’”
Laettner became the leading scorer in NCAA Tournament history, with 380 points. The record was 358, held by Houston’s Elvin Hayes.
It was a game that made fans from both sides squirm. Each team found itself deeper and deeper in foul trouble as the game progressed. Laettner and Tony Lang finished with four fouls, and fellow senior Brian Davis fouled out. Kentucky’s Jamal Mashburn and Gimel Martinez both fouled out, and Woods, John Pelphrey and Dale Brown finished with four apiece.
Duke had no trouble with Kentucky’s press in the first half, but led only 50-45 at the break.
Then in the second the Wildcat press started bothering the Devils. Duke’s 12-point lead disappeared as Kentucky came up with steals and hit big three-pointers.
Senior guard Woods, who had a brilliant game with 21 points for Kentucky, hit a three-pointer that tied the score at 81, and the teams went racing toward the finish line.
Kentucky surged ahead 89-87 when Brown hit a three with 2:58 to play. Davis responded with two when Brown was called for goal-tending.
Woods hit two free throws. Laettner hit two free throws. Woods threw the ball away, and Thomas Hill, with three seconds on the shot clock, hit a leaning jumper with 1:03 to play.
Back came Feldhaus with a follow shot inside. Hurley missed with four seconds left, and, with the hearts of 17,878 fans at the Spectrum racing, the game went into overtime 93-93.
In overtime, Pelphrey hit a three and so did Hurley. Pelphrey twisted inside, and Laettner answered with two free throws at 1:53.
Woods couldn’t drive by Hurley and forced up a shot that hit the side of the rim. Laettner rebounded and, at the other end, rattled in a 10-footer against two Wildcats for a 100-98 lead.
Mashburn, who tortured Duke in the second half, drove the baseline, scored and was fouled by Lang. Mashburn hit the free throw, and Kentucky led, 101-100, with 19.6 seconds to play.
Mashburn slapped Laettner’s arm, drawing his fifth foul, and headed to the bench with 28 points and 10 boards. Laettner made both and Duke led by one with 14.1 seconds to play.
The Wildcats called time with 7.8 seconds left.
Woods took the inbounds pass near halfcourt, drove past Hurley, but Laettner stood between him and the basket.
Woods’ one-handed bank shot was true, with 2.7 seconds showing. The Devils screamed for time and found themselves with 2.1 seconds to keep their season alive.
“Coach K said, ‘We will win this game, ‘” Hurley said. “I doubted him a little bit. I better start believing him.
“We ran the play exactly like he designed it. He wanted Grant to throw the ball to Christian somewhere near the free-throw line and have him hit the shot.”
Because Kentucky had no one in the game taller than 6-8, Krzyzewski instructed Hill to throw the ball high to the 6-11 Laettner. If Laettner could catch the ball cleanly, he would have time to make a quick move and shoot. If he couldn’t, he could tip it to the wing, to either Thomas Hill or Hurley.
“It was a designed play, “ Laettner said. “We had a few different options, but I was the first option.”
In came the pass, high and hard. Laettner caught it, faked, turned and lofted the shot.
“I knew, “ Krzyzewski said, “it was in.”