The Shot (Duke–Kentucky)
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The 1992 NCAA Tournament was highlighted by a game between Duke and Kentucky in the East Regional Final to determine the final spot in the Final Four. With 2.1 seconds remaining in overtime, defending national champion Duke trailed 103–102. Grant Hill threw a pass the length of the court to Christian Laettner, who faked right, dribbled once, turned, and hit a jumper as time expired for the 104–103 win. In 2004 Sports Illustrated deemed it the greatest college basketball game of all time, and ESPN included it as number 17 on its list of top 100 sports moments of the past 25 years (see ESPN25). It is ranked number one on the list of the greatest NCAA tournament games of all time compiled by USA Today in 2002.
|1992 East Regional Final|
|East Regional Final|
|Date||March 28, 1992|
|United States TV coverage|
|Announcers||Verne Lundquist and Len Elmore|
The 1991–92 Kentucky Wildcats are one of the most revered teams in UK's long basketball history. The Wildcats were coming off a two-year postseason ban due to major recruiting violations committed during the tenure of Pitino's predecessor Eddie Sutton, although the NCAA found Sutton was not personally liable. The violations mainly centered on alleged cheating by former player Eric Manuel on the ACT college entrance exam and cash payments to the guardian of another former player, Chris Mills. This was notoriously highlighted on the cover of Sports Illustrated called "Kentucky's Shame".
The team's four seniors, three of whom were Kentucky natives, had remained loyal to the program throughout its probation, and would enter Kentucky basketball history as "The Unforgettables". They were:
- Richie Farmer, a 6'0"/1.83 m shooting guard from Manchester, a small town in the state's eastern coal fields. (He served as the Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture from 2004–2012 and was the Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky in 2011, and would later serve two years in federal prison after pleading guilty to multiple corruption charges during his tenure as Agriculture Commissioner.)
- Deron Feldhaus, a 6'7"/2.01 m forward from Maysville, a small Ohio River town in the Bluegrass region, about an hour's drive upriver from Cincinnati.
- John Pelphrey, a 6'8"/2.03 m forward from another eastern coal town, Paintsville. (Currently an assistant with Alabama, and former assistant at Florida and former head coach at Arkansas.)
- Sean Woods, the only non-Kentuckian, a 6'2"/1.88 m point guard from Indianapolis. (formerly the head coach at Morehead State)
Although the seniors were the heart and soul of the team, its biggest star was sophomore Jamal Mashburn, who would go on to become a consensus first-team All-American the following season and have a successful 12-year NBA career; he is now an NBA analyst for ESPN.
The legacy of "The Unforgettables" at UK was great enough that the UK program decided to retire their jerseys (but not their numbers) almost immediately after that game. While jersey retirement is not uncommon, it is rare for a school to bestow this honor so soon after a player's career ends.
For Duke, the Blue Devils started the season as the defending National Champions, and were looking to repeat as National Champions for the first time since UCLA did it in 1973. Losing only Greg Koubek and Clay Buckley to graduation, Duke retained its core players including Laettner, Bobby Hurley, and Grant Hill and was able to add recruits Cherokee Parks and Erik Meek to its lineup.
The Blue Devils started the season ranked No. 1 and won its first 17 games. Their unbeaten streak came to an end when they lost a close contest to North Carolina in the Dean Dome by a score of 75–73. However, Duke would only lose one other game (to Wake Forest 72–68) for the rest of the season and finished the season with a 25–2 record and the 10th regular-season championship in school history.
Duke entered the ACC Tournament as the No. 1 seed. They defeated North Carolina in the ACC title game 94–74 to capture their 9th ACC Tournament Championship in school history.
The game between Kentucky and Duke is considered by some to be the greatest NCAA tournament game ever. The game was close for the entire 40 minutes plus the 5 minute overtime. Duke was the top-ranked team for the entire season, and were favored to win the national championship for the second consecutive year. At the end of the first half, Duke led Kentucky 50–45. During the second half, after Aminu Timberlake was knocked down during a play, Laettner stepped on his chest. He was assessed a technical foul, but was not ejected. Kentucky tied the game at 93 with 33.6 seconds left in regulation on a Deron Feldhaus putback of a John Pelphrey miss. Duke's point guard Bobby Hurley had a chance to win the game as time expired, but he missed the shot and the game went into overtime. The teams traded the lead through the overtime period. After Kentucky pulled ahead 98–96, Laettner took over for the Blue Devils, scoring their final six points and giving them a 102–101 lead. Kentucky called a timeout with 7.8 seconds left, then Sean Woods hit a running one-hander in the lane over Laettner to put Kentucky ahead 103–102 with 2.1 seconds remaining. Duke called a timeout and drew up the final play. Unguarded on the inbounds play, Grant Hill threw the ball 79 feet to Laettner at the opposite foul line, who dribbled once, turned, and put up "the shot" as time expired, giving Duke a 104–103 victory. Laettner finished the game with 31 points and 7 rebounds. He was a perfect 10–10 from the field and 10–10 from the free throw line.
|“||There's the pass to Laettner... puts it up... (buzzer sounds) YES!!!||”|
- Matthew Waxman = 16 Greatest Games Sports Illustrated (On Campus), March 10, 2004
- Mike Douchant – Greatest 63 games in NCAA Tournament history. The Sports Xchange, published in USA Today, March 25, 2002
- Curry Kirkpatrick – Kentucky's Shame. Sports Illustrated, May 29, 1989
- Sims, John. "Revisiting the Greatest Game Ever Played: The 1992 East Regional Finals". Bleacher Report. Retrieved 2 December 2015.