It was March 28, 1992 in the East Regional played in The Spectrum (sadly, no longer with us) in Philadelphia. It was Kentucky versus Duke, perhaps one of the most heralded non-conference rivalries at that time. Two powerful, and very familiar, coaches were at the helm; Kentuckyâ€™s Rick Pitino and Dukeâ€™s Mike Krzyzewski.
Kentucky made a tremendous comeback from a 12-point deficit in the second half to tie the game at 98-98 with just over 30 seconds left. Duke had a chance to win the game in regulation but Bobby Hurleyâ€™s shot just missed at the buzzer. So â€œhere we go, oh oh oh!â€ [couldnâ€™t help myself from one of my favorite TV shows, â€œRaising Hopeâ€ :)], into OT. Kentuckyâ€™s Sean Wood seemingly seals Dukeâ€™s fate with a shot over Christian Laettner giving the Wildcats a 103-102 lead with just 2.1 seconds left.
After calling a timeout, Coach K sets up what essentially as a â€˜Hail Maryâ€™ play. Again, with just 2.1 seconds left. Grant Hill passes the ball three-quarters the length of the floor to Laettner, who was strategically placed at the top of the key. As the ball reaches Laettnerâ€™s hands, he deftly fakes right then spins right and let’s go a fall-away jumper. The ball swishes through the hoop and that my friends was to be acclaimed by many as the one of the greatest, if not the greatest, college basketball shots ever made! Duke wins 104-103 to advance to the Final Four, and subsequently cut down the nets for their 3rd NCAA Championship.
A decade has passed since that fateful day in 1992. Now, we have two very different teams (Duke and now Louisville instead of Kentucky) in style and play, but ironically, we have the two same coaches as in 1992. Sure, there have undoubtedly been subtle changes in their styles and overall coaching philosophy, but at the end of the day, they are still Rick Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski.
Duke and Kentucky played earlier in the season (November 24), with Duke, led by the spectacular guard play of Quinn Cook (hold that thought!), coming out on top, 76-71, to capture the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament. With that win, Duke enters the game today leading the all-time series with Louisville 5-3. That said, throw that game out. It was also the Past and now weâ€™re in the Present.
Duke excels at shooting 3-pointers and ball handling, ranking in the top 20 in both categories. However, they struggle at offensive rebounding, where they rank in the bottom 50% of all teams. The Cardinals excel at defense and offensive rebounding, ranking in the top 20 in both categories. However, they struggle at shooting 3-pointers, where they rank in the bottom 50% of all teams. So, what do these little tidbits mean? Well, it seems that supposedly theyâ€™re polar opposites. Actually, theyâ€™re quite similar in several respects.
So, rather than go down the slippery slope with more statistics, letâ€™s get to what I feel are the three key factors that have to come to fruition today in order for Duke to continue dancing in Atlantaâ€¦
Three Keys for a Duke Winâ€¦
- Guard play
- Duke will face two of the most intimidating guards theyâ€™ve played to date in Siva and Smith (you can kiss the intangible of these two being ill goodbye for this game)
- Quinn Cook has to regain that Atlantis magic and play tough and deftly on both ends of the floor
- Curry has to keep up his stellar tournament play and Sulaimon absolutely must play like a seasoned Sophomore (throw the Freshman out with the bath water)
- Foul trouble
- Duke has feasted atÂ the FT line in their last two games, particularly against Michigan State
- Louisville is prone to getting into foul trouble, but they go much deeper than Duke so Duke must avoid getting into trouble itself
- 3-point shooting
- Duke shot 35% and 39% against Creighton and Michigan State, respectively; the 3â€™s must keep falling
- Louisville went ballistic against CSU, shooting 56% but cooled down against Oregon, shooting 31%; Duke has to keep an eye on Hancock
Well, there you have it. After 21 years, will it happen again?