OT-- Kentucky v. Duke 1992 East Regional Final-Greatest College Basketball Game Ever?

Submitted by NateVolk on March 28th, 2011 at 9:38 AM

19 years ago today. A lot of the old timers like me on here might have seen the game on CBS. I remember I was a senior in high school channel surfing on a Saturday night and stopped on the game for lack of choices. I don't recall if Michigan played that day or if it was the next day. I was lucky enough to catch the second half.  IMO, 1988 to about 93 was college hoops last golden age and this was the best game.  

The play by both teams was brilliant, you had the controversial coaching decision by Pitino, Laettner's perfection, his clutch shot entwined with a despicable act in the second half, and the hollywood back story of the rise of the scandal decimated Kentucky program taking the far more talented Duke team to the brink.  The impossible was done: for a night  the corporate Big Blue program was sympathetic.

I like to give it a mention on March 28th chatting with sports fans. It always sparks great discussion and memories. Alexander Wolff of SI brings the game and back story to life in this awesome piece. 



Figured this might be a decent topic for late March pre-Final 4. If the mods think it is soaking up Michigan related space with Hockey looking strong, cyber kill it with my apologies.




March 28th, 2011 at 9:59 AM ^

I remember watching that game.  I was 9 years old at my grandmother's house and I had a small rubber basketball that I was bouncing around during the commercials.  That is one of my earliest memories of sports.

I was rooting for Duke because no one had told me yet that they are evil.


March 28th, 2011 at 10:02 AM ^

is being overwhelmed by the excitement that shot generated. Grant Hill will always be one of my favorite Pistons. Respect!


March 28th, 2011 at 10:03 AM ^

I remember watching that game and I think most people would agree that it meets spec for "great game."  Lots of lead changes and some good background stories ...

One thing the OP doesn't mention _directly_ is how teams back then had a lot more high-quality upperclass players.  Early NBA entries were less common.

+ + +

Question: Would that game be so famous without Pretty Boy Laettner's shot?  I don't think it's a secret that Duke was America's (focus group) Team for many years.  Why else would *that* shot have been featured so long in the CBS montage?  I saw it as recently as a couple years ago.  Other famous shots didn't get that much run.

To put it another way, if some anonymous (that is, a guy with no NBA future) Kentucky player had made a less-dramatic game winning shot (with, say, a few seconds left), that game would be just another in the big pile of great tourney games.


March 28th, 2011 at 11:14 AM ^

your question is, if the game hadn't been as good, would it be remembered as one of the best games of all time?  I think you certainly have to take a lot of things into consideration when you evaluate a game.  This one had a lot going for it.

1.) It was a regional final, not an early round game.

2.) It featured two great teams, including the defending national champ.

3.) The winner ultimately won the tournament, making the shot that much more meaningful.

4.) It involved great players, which does (and should, in my opinion) make a difference.  Think how much run Jordan's shots over Ehlo / Russell get compared to the Trent Tucker shot.  Like him or not, Laettner was one of the greatest college basketball players of all time.  Plus, a future NBA all-star threw the pass.

5.) The play itself was memorable, with the length of the court pass and turnaround shot.  The presence of mind that Laettner showed to catch, dribble, turn, etc. was pretty astonishing.  Not to freak out and heave up a garbage shot is an accomplishment in and of itself. 


Anyway, I think it was a confluene of those factors that make the play get so much attention.  It definitely wasn't just the fact that it was Laettner or Duke.  Remember, he hit a game winner against UConn the previous year, just as dramatic, but it has faded from memory.  I also don't think it is unusual for that play to live on in CBS montages.  Keith Smart still gets shown quite a bit, as does James Forrest @ Georgia Tech, Tyus Edney @ UCLA, and Bryce Drew from Valpo. 


March 28th, 2011 at 11:18 AM ^

I conceded that it was a great game by most measures.  It would have been even without CL's shot.  I just don't think its elevated status (after all these years) is justified.  How much greater was it than the UM-Kentucky game in '93?

Your point about his shot the prior year is a good one.  Same with the Forrest and Edney shots ... I think Smart's shot should be in another category because it occurred in the championship game.


March 28th, 2011 at 11:59 PM ^

To be honest, I'm wondering if it's not the opposite: you're looking for reasons to downgrade the game because it involved Duke and Laettner.  It really was an incredible game.  Both teams were on fire and it went back and forth the whole way (the final was 104-103).  Kentucky made what seemed like the game-winner with 2.1 seconds, only to have Duke go the length of the court and beat them.  And Laettner needed to play the perfect game (10-10 shooting) for Duke to win.  If he'd missed one shot - at any point in the game- Duke could have lost.  


March 28th, 2011 at 12:14 PM ^

I was a senior in high school also and agree that it's the best game I've seen too when you put all the factors together.  I remember an interiew where Michael Jordan said it was the best in his opinion too. High praise from a Tar Heel.


March 28th, 2011 at 1:59 PM ^

He doesn't cover the inbound pass to double Laettner, but then has BOTH guys between him and the basket, no one fronting him, so they can make an easy throw, catch, and shoot right over them both. Probably cost us the title.


March 28th, 2011 at 3:33 PM ^

Laettner's game-winning shot is the perfect highlight clip that captures the excitement of NCAA tournament basketball. While the Duke/Kentucky game was incredible, it does not compare to Michigan State v. Indiana State in 1979.


March 28th, 2011 at 11:01 PM ^

Putting the Duke hate aside, it had everything.

I remeber that game well.  I was walking around Georgetown DC that day with some out of town guests.  We kept seeing parts of the game on TV through the windows of bars and restaurants.  It was close the whole way, every time we saw a TV in the window it was just a couple point difference. 

When it became clear that this game was going down to the wire, we went inside an extremely crowded bar to watch the finish.  If you remember, Kentucky hit what looked like the game winning shot with about 2 seconds left.  The bar went crazy with that shot.  But then when Laettner hit the buzzer-beater, the whole place just exploded.  We knew right then that we had witnessed something special that would go down in history.