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Final Four Memories

1998 NCAA Men's Tournament

  Duke Exacts Revenge on UNLV, 79-77

By Anthony Cotton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 31, 1991; Page D1

UNLV's George Ackles (pictured, with ball) couldn't stop Duke from avenging the Blue Devils loss to the Runnin' Rebels in the 1990 NCAA championship game.
(TWP File Photo)
All of the elements that most experts said had to exist to beat Nevada-Las Vegas fell into place for Duke tonight, the Blue Devils knocking unbeaten and top-ranked UNLV out of the NCAA tournament as well as the ranks of the immortals with a startling 79-77 upset in the national semifinals at the Hoosier Dome.

"That was a fantastic basketball game," said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski of the contest, which had 17 ties and 25 lead changes. "We feel privileged to have played UNLV and to have won."

The Blue Devils return to the championship game for the fifth time, where Monday night they will face the Kansas Jayhawks, 79-73 victors over the other ACC Final Four entry, North Carolina.

Duke's winning points -- which ended a 45-game win streak for the Runnin' Rebels and deprived them of the chance to be the first back-to-back champions since UCLA in 1972 and '73 -- came on two free throws by junior center Christian Laettner with 12.7 seconds to play.

After the foul shots, the last of Laettner's team-high 28 points, UNLV took a timeout to set up a play for either burly power forward Larry Johnson or off-guard Anderson Hunt, who scored a game-high 29 points.

After receiving the inbounds pass, Johnson brought the ball up, stopping just outside the three-point line on the right side. The all-American faked a three-point shot but Laettner wouldn't budge. Johnson passed to Hunt, who dribbled near the top of the key and launched a three-point shot.

Hunt, who also scored 29 points in last season's 103-73 championship game victory over Duke, had already made four three-pointers. But this attempt went hard off the rim and by the time the ball was recovered, the buzzer sounded.

The horn set off a wild celebration, with Duke players bounding about the floor, while at center court, Johnson hugged Hunt, gently patting him on top of his head.

"I don't think they were used to slowing the ball down and having to look for one shot," said Duke's freshman guard-forward Grant Hill of UNLV (34-1), which had won by an average of more than 27 points in its 30 games prior to the NCAA tournament. "I don't think they knew what to do at the end -- they'd never been in that situation before."

To their credit though, the Runnin' Rebels didn't use that crunch-time inexperience as a crutch for their failure to repeat as champions.

"The only thing that surprised me was that we didn't play as hard as we normally do," said point guard Greg Anthony, who fouled out with 3:51 to go in one of the game's most critical moments. "We don't always play well but we've always played hard and that didn't happen tonight."

Catching the Rebels on a down night had always been regarded as one of the keys to beating UNLV. Another was getting Anthony -- the architect of the team's pressure defense and fast-break offense -- out of the game.

That happened when Anthony picked up his fifth personal ona charging call. UNLV led 74-71 at the time and increased its lead to 76-71 when George Ackles tipped in his own miss with 2:32 left.

Seventeen seconds later, Bobby Hurley hit his third three-point shot to bring Duke within two, then the team forced UNLV into a 45-second violation.

With 1:02 remaining, Duke swingman Brian Davis (Bladensburg High) was fouled by Johnson after scoring from underneath. He made the free throw, completing the three-point play. Johnson was fouled with 49.9 seconds left; the senior missed both ends of a two-shot foul but hit a third attempt after Duke was called for a lane violation.

That set up the final sequence, Laettner going to the line after rebounding a miss by Thomas Hill. Laettner, continuing his season-long trend of playing at point forward -- at times directing the Duke offense from near the top of the key -- provided another key for the winners.

"The big thing that hurt was what we were most afraid of," said UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian. "They didn't have anyone our center could guard and that changed our whole defense. Other teams have tried to do that but they didn't have anyone as good as Laettner."

There were myriad factors in the win. Duke hit 52 percent from the field, the first time a UNLV opponent had made more than 47 percent of its shots.

Then there was the play of Laettner and Hurley (who, after a dismal two-point, five turnover effort in last year's title game, had 12 points and seven assists with just three turnovers tonight), Davis's 15 points off the bench and Grant Hill's composure in the face of his first Final Four.

However, the biggest factor might have been an intangible -- Duke's determination to not back down.

"We talked to them a lot this week about that," said Duke assistant coach Pete Gaudet. "About making sure that when we came out, they would know that they were going to be in a game, and we did that."

"In last year's game we were intimidated, I think we just gave up right after halftime," said Thomas Hill. "But that really helped for this year's team; we showed them that we weren't gonna back down."

© Copyright 1991 The Washington Post Company

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