UCONN CAN! HUSKIES STUN DUKE FOR TITLE : UCONN 77, DUKE 74.
The pursuit of history ended here Monday night with a brilliant collision, leaving a state in ecstasy and the nation's No. 1 team without the crown required to validate its dominance.
In a frantic, fabulous 40 minutes, Connecticut did what few thought possible and no one had done in four months: It stopped the Duke machine with an airtight game plan, smothering defense and a little help from a guy named Rip.
Behind 27 points from All-American Richard ``Rip'' Hamilton, the Huskies won their first national title - and wrote the greatest chapter in the state's sporting history - with a marvelous 77-74 victory over Duke before 41,340 at Tropicana Field.
``This was one of the greatest games I've ever been involved with,'' Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. ``The kids were saying they wanted Duke instead of Michigan State. I said maybe the wiser head knows better. But the kids knew better.''
The buzzer sounded with Blue Devils senior guard Trajan Langdon (25 points) sprawled on the court; his last-gasp, full-court charge had ended with a turnover. Calhoun, whose decision to play Duke at warp speed worked to perfection, embraced his assistants and then hugged Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Scheduled for hip replacement surgery next week, Krzyzewski then left the court with a stern expression - one he had seen before. Eight years ago today, Duke stunned supposedly unbeatable Nevada-Las Vegas in an equally riveting Final Four duel in Indianapolis. Once again, a team that couldn't be beaten had fallen one game short of securing its place among the greatest.
``They were good, and we were good,'' Krzyzewski said. ``They did things better than we did at the end, and they won.''
Connecticut (34-2) not only avenged NCAA Tournament losses to Duke in 1990 and '91, it also refuted the critics who have shadowed Calhoun since his arrival in Storrs in 1986. He turned a nothing program into the Big East's best, yet substantiation did not arrive until late Monday night.
``We were 10-point underdogs, and we thought that was ridiculous,'' point guard Khalid El-Amin said. ``We wanted to prove everyone wrong.''
Realizing it was no match for Duke in a half-court game, Connecticut did whatever it could to generate pace. The Huskies opened the game with full-court pressure, swarmed Duke center Elton Brand (15 points), and pushed their fastbreak at every opportunity. They have a deep bench, superb athletes and players who thrive in open-court situations. It was the way they like to play, the only way they could play.
Instead of backing down from the Durham bully, the Huskies attacked. They spread Duke's defense and used their speed to slash into the lane. Senior guard Ricky Moore shed his reputation as a defensive specialist and scored nine of Connecticut's first 15 points, but the main man was Hamilton. He was too quick for Duke, and his jumper was right all night.
Hamilton hit 10 of 22 shots, then gave way to El-Amin, whose short jumper from the left side with 1:05 left gave Connecticut a 75-72 lead and proved to be the winning shot. Duke's best chance collapsed when Langdon, matched against Moore, traveled on his way through the lane with five seconds left.
``Absolutely, positively, I want Trajan to take that shot,'' Krzyzewski said. ``I'll win or lose with Trajan. I'll walk down any road with Trajan.''
The Huskies edged to a 36-32 lead late in the half when Langdon singlehandedly changed the momentum. He buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key, then drained a 3-pointer from the left wing as Moore fouled him. The rare four-point play gave Duke a narrow lead at halftime.
Langdon kept his rhythm through intermission and scored five quick points to open the second half. When William Avery found Brand for a dunk and Chris Carrawell did the same to Shane Battier, the Blue Devils had carved a 48-43 lead and seemed on the verge of a game-breaking surge.
But Connecticut reserve Albert Mouring slowed Duke's momentum with a 12-footer from the lane, and Connecticut scored on its next six possessions. The final basket was Mouring's, as he slashed the left baseline for a nifty layup that gave the Huskies a 57-53 lead. Their margin expanded to 65-59 on Hamilton's jumper from the left wing with nine minutes left.
Duke responded immediately. Brand blocked a Hamilton shot, then raced downcourt to receive Avery's pass for a layup. Two possessions later, Carrawell's mid-range jumper trimmed Connecticut's lead to 65-63, and he tied it with 4:50 remaining.
The final minutes were riveting, beginning with Hamilton's 3-pointer from the left wing that gave Connecticut a 73-68 lead. Two minutes later, Battier grabbed an improbable rebound and fed Langdon for a 3-pointer - right wing, 1:40 left - that brought Duke within one point.
BY THE NUMBERS
A statistical look at the NCAA championship game:
1: NCAA titles and Final Four appearances for Connecticut.
2-6: Duke's all-time record in championship games.
10-0: Connecticut's record this season when trailing at the half.
25.4: Duke's average margin of victory, tops in the nation this season.
32: Consecutive wins by the Blue Devils before Monday's loss to UConn.
41: Duke's shooting percentage in the final, its lowest this season.
145: MVP Richard Hamilton's point total in six tournament games.
Biggest underdogs to win the NCAA championship since 1961, with point spread, year and score:
9-1/2: 1985, Villanova 66, Georgetown 64
9-1/2: 1999, Connecticut 77, Duke 74
8-1/2: 1983, North Carolina St. 54, Houston 52
8-1/2: 1988, Kansas 83, Oklahoma 73
8: 1961, Cincinnati 70, Ohio State 65 (OT)
7: 1997, Arizona 84, Kentucky 79 (OT)
6-1/2: 1966, Texas Western 72, Kentucky 65
1945: Oklahoma A&M
1946: Oklahoma A&M
1947: Holy Cross
1954: La Salle
1955: San Francisco
1956: San Francisco
1957: North Carolina
1960: Ohio State
1963: Loyola, Ill.
1966: Texas Western
1974: North Carolina State
1979: Michigan State
1982: North Carolina
1983: North Carolina State
1993: North Carolina
1939 - None selected
1940 - Marvin Huffman, Indiana
1941 - John Kotz, Wisconsin
1942 - Howie Dallmar, Stanford
1943 - Ken Sailors, Wyoming
1944 - Arnold Ferrin, Utah
1945 - Bob Kurland, Oklahoma A&M
1946 - Bob Kurland, Oklahoma A&M
1947 - George Kaftan, Holy Cross
1948 - Alex Groza, Kentucky
1949 - Alex Groza, Kentucky
1950 - Irwin Dambrot, CCNY
1951 - None selected
1952 - Clyde Lovellette, Kansas
1953 - B.H. Born, Kansas
1954 - Tom Gola, La Salle
1955 - Bill Russell, San Francisco
1956 - Hal Lear, Temple
1957 - Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas
1958 - Elgin Baylor, Seattle
1959 - Jerry West, West Virginia
1960 - Jerry Lucas, Ohio State
1961 - Jerry Lucas, Ohio State
1962 - Paul Hogue, Cincinnati
1963 - Art Heyman, Duke
1964 - Walt Hazzard, UCLA
1965 - Bill Bradley, Princeton
1966 - Jerry Chambers, Utah
1967 - Lew Alcindor, UCLA
1968 - Lew Alcindor, UCLA
1969 - Lew Alcindor, UCLA
1970 - Sidney Wicks, UCLA
1971 - (x) Howard Porter, Villanova
1972 - Bill Walton, UCLA
1973 - Bill Walton, UCLA
1974 - David Thompson, North Carolina State
1975 - Richard Washington, UCLA
1976 - Kent Benson, Indiana
1977 - Butch Lee, Marquette
1978 - Jack Givens, Kentucky
1979 - Earvin Johnson, Michigan State
1980 - Darrell Griffith, Louisville
1981 - Isiah Thomas, Indiana
1982 - James Worthy, North Carolina
1983 - Akeem Olajuwon, Houston
1984 - Patrick Ewing, Georgetown
1985 - Ed Pinckney, Villanova
1986 - Pervis Ellison, Louisville
1987 - Keith Smart, Indiana
1988 - Danny Manning, Kansas
1989 - Glen Rice, Michigan
1990 - Anderson Hunt, UNLV
1991 - Christian Laettner, Duke
1992 - Bobby Hurley, Duke
1993 - Donald Williams, North Carolina
1994 - Corliss Williamson, Arkansas
1995 - Ed O'Bannon, UCLA
1996 - Tony Delk, Kentucky
1997 - Miles Simon, Arizona
1998 - Jeff Sheppard, Kentucky
1999 - Richard Hamilton, Connecticut
(x) - subsequently ruled ineligible
3 Photos, Box
PHOTO (1--Color) Connecticut's Khalid El-Amin, whose short jumper with 1:05 left proved to be the winning shot, leaps into the arms of teammate Jake Voskuhl.
Eric Draper/Associated Press
(2) Khalid El-Amin, right, and Rashamel Jones savor UConn's victory. ``We wanted to prove everyone wrong,'' El-Amin said.
Ed Reinke/Associated Press
(3--Color) no caption (Connecticut Coach Jim Calhounn)
Ed Reinke/Associated Press
BOX: LARGEST UPSETS (see text)