17: Laettner's buzzer-beater sinks Kentucky

Every once in a while, they pop in the video tape, just to see it again, just to make sure it actually happened, that it wasn't a dream, as it was to the victors, or a nightmare, as it was to the victims. Every once in a while, the urge becomes too overpowering, too overwhelming. They must see it, they have to see to, they have to relive the moment.

March 28, 1992. Philadelphia Spectrum, NCAA East Regional Finals. Duke vs. Kentucky, two universities encrusted with rich basketball tradition, battling for a chance to go to the Final Four. Mike Krzyzewski vs. Rick Pitino. Defending NCAA champion Duke vs. a proud Kentucky team having returned to power after the embarrassment of NCAA probation just three years earlier.

In the second half, Kentucky stages a furious rally from 12 points down to tie the game with 33.6 seconds left, and when Duke's Bobby Hurley misses at the buzzer, the game goes into overtime.

During the final 31.5 seconds of overtime, the ball changes hands five times, with each possession resulting in a lead change. The final half minute drips of everything that is great about competition. With the score deadlocked at 98, Duke's Christian Laettner receives the ball in the post with the shot clocking winding down. As he spins around, Kentucky's Jamal Mashburn knocks the ball loose, but Laettner regains control of the ball and flings a low line drive that deflects off the backboard and drops into the basket.

"A miraculous shot," Krzyzewski would say afterwards. Pitino, realizing Laettner has not missed a shot the entire evening, turns to his assistants and says, "That sucker's never going to miss."

Mashburn then slips in along the baseline for a layup and is fouled. He sinks the free throw that pushes Kentucky back into the lead, 101-100. "I thought that was it, that'd we won," Mashburn says.

At the other end, Duke gets the ball inside again to Laettner, who's fouled by Mashburn, Kentucky's star, who is now fouled out. Laettner sinks both free throws, giving the lead back to Duke, 102-101, with 7.8 seconds left.

Pitino calls time out and sets up a play for Sean Woods to drive to the hole and kick the ball out to the wing if Duke collapses in on him. As Duke breaks its huddle, the ever-alert Hurley reminds his teammates to call time if Kentucky scores. "I couldn't believe it. I forgot to remind the guys of that," Krzyzewski would admit later.

Woods takes the inbounds pass, freezes Hurley with a head fake, accelerates to the hoop and flips up an ugly one-handed push shot that has just enough of an arc to clear the outstretched arm of Laettner, who had raced to the middle of the lane to help. The ball glances off the backboard and falls through the hoop, giving the 'Cats a 103-102 lead. Duke immediately calls timeout. The clock shows 2.1 seconds.

As Duke's players walk toward their bench, Krzyzewski immediately says, "We're gonna win." He reminds his team that the clock won't start until the ball is touched inbounds, that a pass could travel 70, 80, even 90 feet without the clock moving. Krzyzewski devises the play: Grant Hill to throw the ball in, three-quarters of the way upcourt, to Laettner, who would station himself on the foul line.

Meanwhile, in the Kentucky huddle, Pitino and his staff debate whether they should put a defender on the inbounds passer. Six years earlier, when Pitino was head coach at Providence, he failed to defend an inbounds pass, lost the game, and vowed to never again fail to put a man on the ball.

However, against Duke, it is a different set of circumstances: the 6-8 Mashburn, Pitino's first choice to defend the inbounds pass, had fouled out. So had 6-8 Gimel Martinez. Kentucky's two tallest players -- 6-9 Aminu Timberlake and Andre Riddick -- are freshmen and not experienced enough for Pitino. The only options left are 6-7 Deron Feldhaus and 6-7 John Pelphrey, but Pitino knows that if he puts Pelphrey or Feldhaus on the ball, the other has to play the 6-11 Laettner one-on-one, and he fears Laettner catching the pass and simply bulling his way to the basket. So Pitino decides to put Feldhaus on Laettner, have Pelphrey play center field and hope he deflects the pass.

As Hill walks to the baseline and and sees that his pass won't be defended and his view downcourt will not be obstructed, he breathes a sigh of relief. The teams line up. The soldout crowd stands, as one. Hill unleashes a pass downcourt. While the ball spins in the air, Laettner turns and races to the free-throw line, beating Feldhaus, who steps in behind Laettner, conscience not to get too close, fearing a foul. Pelphrey watches the flight of the ball, and sees it heading right to him. He envisions catching the ball and heaving it upwards to the heavens. "There wasn't a doubt in my mind that I was going to catch it," he would say later. "I could almost smell the leather."

The ball somehow eludes Pelphrey's fingers and hands and lands iin the hands of Laettner, who turns, takes one dribble, fakes right to create some distance from Feldhaus, spins left, rises and shoots a majestic fallaway. Feldhaus rises with Laettner, but for fear of fouling, he is too far away to come close to touching the shot.

"Everything was in slow motion, like one of those classic scenes from 'Hoosiers' and 'The Natural,'" Hill would say afterwards. The eyes of the basketball world intently watch as the ball descends ... swish. Ballgame.

As an overjoyed Laettner hoists his arms in the air and races toward midcourt, wide-eyed and hysterical, absolute disbelief, joy and horror engulfs the arena all at once. Pandemonium ensues as one side of the arena celebrates while the other collapses on the floor in dismay as it attempts to comprehend what has just transpired. Tears flow. Tears of joy, tears of pain.