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Final Four Memories

1998 NCAA Men's Tournament

  No More Knocking, Duke Kicks in Door

By Anthony Cotton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 2, 1991; Page C1

Duke's Christian Laettner
Duke's Christian Laettner (pictured) was named the 1991 Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.
(TWP File Photo)
Duke ended years of frustration in the NCAA Final Four, winning the 1991 men's college basketball championship with a 72-65 victory over Kansas tonight at the Hoosier Dome.

If there were no wild celebrations for the winners, just hugs and a number of "good job" exchanges among players and coaches, it might have been because the triumph was as much relief as thrill.

The Blue Devils had been to the Final Four eight times and lost four times in the semifinals and four times in the title game before this year's magical journey. Yet Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski told his players before they upset top-ranked Nevada-Las Vegas on Saturday they were playing this tournament for themselves, not history.

The Blue Devils disagreed. To a man, they said they won Saturday night and tonight for their coach.

It wasn't pretty, but nobody in Duke blue was complaining. The Blue Devils (32-7) scored only two field goals in the final 10:28. Center Christian Laettner was named the outstanding player although scoring most of his game-high 18 points from the free throw line, where he was 12 for 12. The marksmanship set a championship game record for accuracy and tied the Final Four mark set by Duke guard Jim Spanarkel in 1978.

Kansas (27-8), hoping to win its second championship in the last four seasons, fared worse. The Jayhawks shot 41.5 percent from the field, their third-worst percentage of the season. A second-half drought, in which the Jayhawks went more than five minutes without scoring, proved costly as Duke opened up a double-digit lead.

"That was important because we knew that we played defense well enough to stop them from scoring," said Blue Devils forward Brian Davis. "A lot of the teams that they had played in the tournament couldn't do that."

Kansas, which never led -- Duke forward Greg Koubek, playing in his fourth Final Four, opened the scoring with a three-point basket -- did close to seven with just more than two minutes to play. But Laettner and point guard Bobby Hurley each hit two free throws to secure the victory.

It was almost fitting that Duke was forced to struggle until the end, so laborious had been the team's quest for a championship.

This ninth Duke visit to the Final Four was the fifth under Krzyzewski. Last season, in its third consecutive trip, Duke was trounced in the final by UNLV, 103-73.

But the Blue Devils more than made up for that with a 79-77 victory over the till-then undefeated Runnin' Rebels in Saturday's semifinalsm and though tonight's triumph didn't have the authority and breathlessness of that game, the winners couldn't care less.

"I'm not so sure if anyone's played harder for 80 minutes to win a championship," said Krzyzewski.

He said he felt that his biggest problem entering tonight's game was ridding his players of the euphoria over beating UNLV. At the end of a closed practice session on Sunday, the coach blasted his players in a five-minute tirade, the better to help them focus on the task at hand.

"That's one of the greatest things about coaching, though, getting a team ready for its biggest game a day after everyone is saying that it's already won one of the biggest games in tournament history," he said tonight.

With the exception of Hurley -- who played every minute of both the national and regional semifinals and finals -- Krzyzewski substituted freely tonight, trying to sneak a few moments of rest for his players. Duke got help from reserve guard Billy McCaffrey, who scored 16 points.

"He picked a great game to show his stuff for us," said Krzyzewski. "If he doesn't come through like that, I'm not sure that we're going to score that many points."

Kansas was led by center Mark Randall's 18 points in a loss that spoiled what had been a dreamlike tournament. The third seed in the Southeast Regional, the Jayhawks beat No. 3 Indiana, No. 2 Arkansas and No. 4 North Carolina to advance to the championship game.

"I don't want to think about the season right now," said forward Alonzo Jamison, one for 10 from the field tonight. "I'm more worried about what happened five minutes ago than what happened the rest of the year."

In fact, the Jayhawks did few of the things that carried them this far. Coach Roy Williams cited a couple of instances in which a lack of poise hurt his 12th-ranked team.

The first came just before the half, when a turnover led to a three-point basket by Duke forward Thomas Hill for a 42-34 Blue Devils advantage at intermission.

The second came shortly after Kansas had edged from 14 down to 66-59 on a three-pointer by Terry Brown with 2:09 remaining. Duke freshman standout Grant Hill missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:43 left but Brown rushed another three-point shot that missed badly.

That led to Laettner's final two free throws, at the 1:30 mark. Kansas missed another wild three-point shot, with Hurley hitting free throws moments after the rebound.

"One of the things we put on the blackboard before the game is 'Let's do the little things' but we didn't do them tonight," said Williams. "I'll admit we lost our poise a little with those two shots down the stretch."

Duke, which carried a No. 6 ranking after suffering a 96-74 drubbing by North Carolina in the ACC tournament final three weeks ago, certainly kept its composure.

"There's never been a monkey on my back, never," said Krzyzewski. "We've always known how to enjoy whatever we've accomplished."

© Copyright 1991 The Washington Post Company

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