“It was such a high-scoring game with so much perfection in the way players passed and shot the ball. That’s what made it stand the test of time,” Pitino said. “It was a game where two coaches could sit back and watch great players perform at the highest level.”
After coming from 10 down in regulation, Kentucky appeared to have the game won when Sean Woods made a running bank shot in the lane with 2.5 seconds left in overtime. Duke called a timeout, and gave the ball to Grant Hill to inbound.
The Wildcats knew the ball was going to Laettner, a 6-foot-11 center who’d made a buzzer-beater against Connecticut in the regional finals two years earlier. But without Jamal Mashburn —he’d fouled out — Pitino pulled John Pelphrey and Deron Feldhaus aside and warned them not to foul.
“I said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t foul him. He hasn’t missed a shot,”’ Pitino recalled. “I shouldn’t have done that. That was the mistake I made. I should have said, ‘Whatever you do, bat down the ball. I don’t care what the contact is, go for the basketball.’
“You saw my guys freeze a little bit.”
As anyone who’s ever watched the NCAA tournament in the last 21 years knows, Hill threw a strike from the far baseline and found Laettner at the foul line with his back to the basket. Laettner faked right, spun to his left and his 15-footer hit nothing but net as the buzzer sounded.
“I don’t think you can realize the significance at that time,” Krzyzewski said. “I will always remember the stark difference in emotion. Because, right in front of me, Richie Farmer collapsed. I see our guys jump and I see him fall. And really, I was more taken by Richie. I understood by looking at him ... just how tough that was.”