- Sunday, March 22 1998 -
NCAA South Regional Finals (at St. Petersburg, FL)
Kentucky - 86 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Final Rank 5th by AP]
Duke - 84 (Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski) - [Final Rank 3rd by AP]
Halftime Score: Duke 49, Kentucky 39
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|UCLA 94 - 68|||||Stanford 86 - 85 OT|
Game Writeup - by Thomas George, New York Times
Kentucky Gets Revenge After a Wait of Six Years
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., March 22 -- At halftime, no one could beat Kentucky in its made dash to simply get off the floor.
Kentucky had been embarrassed by Duke. It had been boxed in and then boxed out, pressured inside and then outside, had fumbled the ball away and seen its shots kiss the rims more than the nets. Duke led, 49-39.
But after the final buzzer sounded, no one could get Kentucky off the floor. There was Coach Tubby Smith in the middle of his players, jumping up and down, chanting, a 46-year-old man acting like a 6-year-old boy.
The was Jamaal Magloire, a Kentucky center, stepping onto a press table and offering a light-hearted two-step shuffle.
Finally, the nets were cut and the lights were dimmed in Tropicana Field, and all that remained were memories.
Memories of one bubbly, heroic comeback, an 86-84 Kentucky victory over Duke in the South Regional of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament before 40,589 enthralled fans.
A victory for Kentucky (33-4) that came after it had trailed in the first half by as many as 18 points.
A victory that puts Kentucky into the Final Four in a semifinal game against Stanford.
A victory that provided payback.
Six years ago, Duke toppled Kentucky in overtime in a classic regional final that featured the long pass and the Christian Laettner turnaround jumper. this time, Kentucky got to stick the final piercing dagger.
After guard Cameron Mills made a 3-pointer with 2 minutes 15 seconds left to give Kentucky its first lead in the game, 80-79, the Duke senior forward Roshown McLeod hit two free throws to put Duke back on top.
Kentucky's Jeff Sheppard hit a free throw -- it was an 81-81 game now -- and there were 39.4 seconds left when Kentucky's Scott Padgett launched another 3-pointer.
"We set the pick out high and their guys seemed to sag in on Wayne Turner's penetration," Padgett said. "I decided that since most of the defense was inside, the shot to take was outside. I feel confident in my 3-point shooting."
And he scored.
That was the backbreaker, the shot that dumped Duke (32-4) in a game in which it never trailed until the final two minutes. Duke's lead was in double digits - 71-60 - with 8:41 remaining. Kentucky just kept chipping away.
"That is a team that kept their poise," the Duke freshman forward Shane Battier said. "Very seldom do you find that type of nerves. They got a lot of points from the free-throw line and a lot of second shots. Those were things we wanted to prevent. and then, we had a couple of shots, late, that usually go in for us that didn't. In this tournament, no lead is big enough."
Kentucky won in rebounding (45-39) and limited Duke to 33.3 percent floor shooting in the second half, much worse than the Blue Devils' 54.8 percent in the first half.
"We wanted them to be one-and-done on offense," Duke guard Trajan Langdon said. "But they came back from 18 points down by getting second chances and by showing no fear. I kept looking in their eyes during our big runs to see if they were scared. They weren't scared. Most teams fold, down 18 points."
"Our offense did not help our defense during their comeback because of rushed, quick shots we made. That helped up their spirits a bit in the comeback. You saw what happened. That is a team that doesn't believe it can lose."
Kentucky looked to be in trouble in the first half. It kept missing and Duke kept hitting. Duke's extended defense kept Kentucky's 3-point shooting in check and its low-post offense left he 6-foot-10-inch center Nazr Mohammed controlled.
But in the second half, with Turner, the dazzlingly quick Kentucky point guard, penetrating and dishing and keeping it sometimes for himself, with the Kentucky defense on its toes, Duke's lead wilted.
"Those guys had a stretch there, too, where they just didn't miss," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
"They had a shooting spree where four guys got hot for them. Our kids played their hearts out for 40 minutes. I feel badly for our guys because they've been amazing all year. I love my team. I love them even more after today. This is a loss that hurts.
"But Kentucky has great kids. They have amazing camaraderie. Not one kid made any big plays, it was the whole team. We knew they would come back. They wouldn't have won it if they weren't together like they were."
Illustrating the balance, the closeness of these teams, each team featured five players who scored in double figures. (Jeff Sheppard led Kentucky with 18 points and had 11 rebounds, remarkable for a guard; McLeod led Duke with 19 points.)
Each team made 29 field goals. Kentucky made 9 3-pointers, while Duke made 10. Kentucky earned 16 offensive rebounds, Duke 17. Kentucky had 14 assists; so did Duke.
So close. A basket's difference.
"In the beginning of the game," said Turner, this region's most valuable player. "I was penetrating, but then I became passive. I got back to being aggressive. Every Kentucky fan is going to be excited about this. This is almost as good as it gets -- except for the national championship."
Duke had won four straight in the series. That's over. Kentucky leads over all when these teams tangle, 11-6. It is the third consecutive Final Four appearance for Kentucky. It is now on an 11-game winning streak and has won 15 of its last 16 tournament games.
For Krzyzewski, it was his first loss in a regional final. He entered this one a 7-0, intent on reaching his eighth Final Four. Instead, Smith, the Kentucky coach, earned his first.
"We're going to treasure this moment for a long time," Smith said. "They've been the benchmark for college basketball for a while now, so it was quite an honor to win."
"Our players want to reach their full potential," he added. "And they are mature enough to understand how to do it."
Sidebar - New York Times by William C. Rhoden
Sports of the Times
Duke-Kentucky II: A Sequel to Remember
Sequels are very rarely as good as the original. As Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith said on Friday when he was asked about the classic 1992 Duke-Kentucky game: the stars have to be right.
For long, agonizing stretches last night, the stars were all out of kilter for Kentucky. The explosive Wildcats, whose signature throughout the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament had been torrid starts, found themselves down by 18 at one point in the first half, and down by 17 in the second.
But Kentucky clawed its way back and this game lived up to its billing. In fact, this game nearly duplicated the 1992 classic, all the way down to the final dramatic inbound play.
In 1992, Duke trailed by 1 point with 2.1 seconds left to play. Last night, Duke trailed by 2 points with 4.5 seconds left to play.
In the 1992 game, Grant Hill took the ball out and threw a full court strike to Christian Laettner, who nailed the winning basket at the buzzer. Last night, the Duke freshman Shane Battier, the player with the strongest arm, took the ball out and looked deep. But this time the deep routes were covered. Battier fired a midcourt pass to the freshman William Avery. Avery dribbled frantically over the halfcourt line and fired a desperation shot as an entire arena held its breath. Avery's shot slammed off the backboard and into the waiting hands of Kentucky's Scott Padgett, who grabbed it, covered it and finally flung it away as time expired. It was a fitting end to two classic weeks of college basketball. The tournament now heads to San Antonio and the Final Four.
After yesterday's game,Smith acknowledged the connection to six years ago. "I'm sure our fans and players feel that they have been exonerated." Smith said, half-jokingly. "I think we may have exorcised that 1992 loss to Duke. This was just a great, great college basketball game."
Earlier, someone asked Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski if, maybe for a split second, he felt a sense of deja vu as the game wound down to the same play in the final seconds.
Close, he said. But this time there was one crucial difference.
"I would have felt like that had we had a full timeout left," Krzyzewski said. For all the elements that make for great contests - the surges, the comebacks, the attacks and counterattacks - this classic turned on the razor's edge of one crucial decision.
With 5 minutes and 47 seconds left, Duke found itself clinging to a 72-71 lead. The Blue Devils had watched their 69-52 lead slashed to ribbons by the Wildcats' withering fullcourt defense and uncanny in-your-face shooting. After a Kentucky miss, Duke nearly lost the ball to pressure, and Roshown McLeod, the Blue Devil senior, used Duke's last timeout.
"I knew we needed the ball," he explained afterward in Duke's quiet locker room. "So my first instinct was to call a timeout. I thought if we could get a basket there, we could gain some momentum."
In the short term it worked. Duke scored 4 straight points and led, 76-73 with 4:21 left to play. But, in a classic chess match like this, when long-term strategy ultimately decides the game, McLeod's decision proved fatal. Tubby Smith, his team fresher and sensing the kill, kept the clock moving. Duke led by 77-73, then by 79-75, then Kentucky went on a 10-2 run, and led by 85-81 with 16.7 seconds remaining. Smith had four timeouts and saved them like money in the bank. He wouldn't call another timeout until 4.5 seconds were left and Kentucky was leading, 86-84.
"That was a crucial point in the game," Smith said of McLeod's timeout. "I didn't want to call timeout; I wanted to continue the attack and keep on pressing. Mike is too smart a coach. I didn't want to give him time to adjust."
Success and victory balance on such a fragile precipice.
In the opening stretches of the game, Kentucky players seemed to have momentarily forgotten the formula that brought them here: a withering press from beginning to end. After waltzing through the South Regional from blowout to blowout, Kentucky was met by a hurricane of Duke offense as the Blue Devils gave Kentucky a dose of its own explosive medicine. They hit the Wildcats with a furious assault and before anyone knew what happened, Duke led by 38-20. In the second half, Kentucky trailed by 17 with 11 minutes to play.
"I don't look at the scoreboard," Smith said when someone asked about the thoughts running through his mind at this point. "I don't look at the score. I just knew we had to make something happen. I knew they were getting all the loose balls and all the long rebounds. I wanted to stop play and change the direction o the ways things were going."
And so he did. And so they did. After Duke's final timeout, Kentucky outscored Duke by 15-10 and Smith, in his first season as head coach, takes Kentucky to the Final Four for the third straight season.
Last year, the Wildcats were runners-up; in 1996, they were national champions. As Smith spoke, his proud father, Guffrie Smith, 80, and his mother, Parthenia, 76, sat in wheelchairs in back of the interview area, savoring this moment. Tubby was the sixth of 17 children.
"He's always been a good fellow," his father said. His mother smiled. "Never had any problems," he said. "He's a great man."
Today, thousands of fans in Lexington will say "Amen" to that.
Scott Padgett (#34) shoots the game winner
Jeff Sheppard (#15) shoots a foul shot after an intentional foul was called, while the Duke team watches from afar.
Scott Padgett (#34) works against Duke's Roshown McLeod