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The Greatest NCAA Tournament Game of All Time

By Rick Bouch

There have been many fantastic finishes and upsets in NCAA tournament history. There was N.C. State’s David Thompson scoring 28 points to give the Wolfpack an 80-77 upset of UCLA in the 1974 Final Four and end the Bruins’ quest for an eighth straight national title. There was the 1982 national championship game when a skinny freshman from North Carolina named Michael Jordan hit a jumper with 15 seconds to play that gave the Tar Heels a 63-62 victory. The following year it was the Wolfpack again upsetting Phi Slamma Jamma and Houston 54-52 when Lorenzo Charles dunked an errant shot by N.C. State guard Dereck Whittenburg. But, there was an epic thriller that occurred exactly 25 years ago in the East Regional final that earns the title ‘Greatest NCAA tournament game of all-time.’

In 1992, Duke was the top seed in the East after winning both the ACC’s regular season and tournament championships. The Blue Devils had an easy time through the first weekend of tournament play beating No. 16 Campbell 82-56 and No. 9 Iowa 75-62 to earn a berth in the Sweet Sixteen. An 81-69 win over Seton Hall led to an East Regional Final showdown with second-seeded Kentucky.

The Wildcats were coming off of a two-year postseason ban because of major recruiting violations that occurred under Eddie Sutton. Rick Pitino had taken over the program in 1989, suffered through a 14-14 campaign then finished first in the SEC in 1990-91 though the Wildcats were not awarded the conference title due to the recruiting violations. Pitino and his crew of no-names won the SEC in ’91-’92 and entered the tournament looking for redemption.

The Kentucky Wildcats would get some of that redemption dispatching Old Dominion (88-69), Iowa State (106-98), and UMass (87-77) rather easily. The three wins set up an Elite Eight matchup with the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils. While Duke was loaded with stars like Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, and Bobby Hurley, the Wildcats featured a cast of “Unforgettables” as they were aptly named. Richie Farmer, Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey, and Sean Woods, all seniors, were not household names among college basketball fans, but they were all Pitino had. Them and a sophomore by the name of Jamal Mashburn.

In the regional final, the two teams would go toe-to-toe. Duke took a five-point lead into the half, but the Wildcats, behind Mashburn’s 28 points and 10 rebounds, would come back to the tie the game at 93-all at the end of regulation. Then came the historic overtime period. Mashburn committed his fifth foul to send Laettner to the free throw line with less than 10 seconds to play. Laettner made both free throws, but Kentucky’s Woods would hit an improbable running floater to give the Wildcats a 103-102 lead with just 2.1 seconds to play.

Those final 2.1 seconds on March, 28, 1992, still live in infamy to this day. Hill would inbound the ball and toss a perfect length-of-the-floor pass to Laettner, who caught the ball at the foul line. Laettner took one dribble, pivoted, and nailed his 10th shot of the day to give Duke a 104-103 victory. Laettner did not miss a shot the entire game. He was 10-for-10 from the floor and 10-for-10 from the free throw to finish with the game-high 31 points. In a fitting finish to the tournament, Duke would go on to win the national championship.

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