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Memories of ’92 fresh for coaches

Epic regional final connects legends Krzyzewski, Pitino

Krzyzewski
Pitino

– Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino are finally doing an encore.

For the first time since their teams played perhaps the greatest game in the history of the NCAA tournament, Krzyzewski and Pitino will meet in the NCAA tournament today when top-seeded Louisville faces Duke. In the regional finals, no less.

Krzyzewski and Pitino are forever linked by that one game in Philadelphia in 1992, immortalized by Christian Laettner’s improbable shot.

“It’s one of those moments in time that helped define our sport,” Krzyzewski said Saturday.

Said Pitino, “It was like being in Carnegie Hall and seeing the best musician or the best singer. Just sitting there in amazement of what they were doing out on the basketball court.”

Krzyzewski and Pitino are two of the finest coaches of their generation, with five NCAA titles and 1,618 victories between them. Yet for all of their success, and for as good a friends as they are, Krzyzewski and Pitino rarely play each other.

When Louisville (32-5) and Duke (30-5) played in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in November – Duke won – it was the first time Krzyzewski and Pitino had played each other since ’92. Today’s game will be their third meeting ever.

“That’s why we got them in the conference. Got to start doing this a little bit more,” Krzyzewski joked, referring to Louisville’s upcoming move to the ACC.

But almost nothing could top that first meeting between them.

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.

Duke would go on to win its second straight title, beating Michigan in the final. Kentucky would complete its revival four years later when the Wildcats beat Syracuse for their sixth NCAA title and first since 1978.

But it is that game that everyone remembers, and the years have done nothing to diminish it.

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