Dave Fairbank's game story from Duke-Kentucky

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 It came down to one play and the senior who refused to lose.

Christian Laettner arched his back and leaped high for the 80-foot inbounds pass from teammate Grant Hill. He gathered in the ball, dribbled once, spun and let fly from just beyond the foul line.

The shot swished cleanly through the Spectrum basket Saturday evening as the buzzer sounded, and one of the most remarkable streaks in sports continued.

Duke 104, Kentucky 103. In overtime. In the NCAA East Regional final. For a trip to the Final Four.

``You can't write enough about how many great plays there were tonight,'' Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. ``I'm just standing around trying to figure out what a lucky son-of-a-gun I am.

``We were very lucky. We have as much empathy as possible for Kentucky. ... I thank God I was a part of this.''

Top-seeded Duke (32-2) earned its fifth consecutive trip to the Final Four and its sixth in the last seven years. Second-seeded Kentucky (29-7) had its first trip to the Final Four since 1984 snatched away in the final 2.1 seconds of overtime.

Laettner, a 6-foot-11 All-American and the NCAA Tournament's all-time career scoring leader, made every one of his shots Saturday. He made all 10 of his shots from the field - one a 3-pointer, and all 10 of his free throw attempts. Thirty-one points. The Blue Devils needed every one of them.

The Wildcats had taken a 103-102 lead with three seconds remaining in overtime on Sean Woods' leaning, hanging, high-arcing bank shot in the lane over Laettner's outstretched fingertips.

Duke called its last timeout with 2.1 seconds to play and set up the final play. Hill threw a baseball pass from underneath his own basket.

Laettner, who propelled the Devils into the Final Four two years ago with a last-second overtime shot against Connecticut in the East Region final, said it was a designed play.

``I was the first option,'' Laettner said. ``Grant threw a perfect pass. I was really trying to concentrate on catching the ball first.

``After I caught the ball I just tried to create some distance and shoot the ball up. I didn't even see it go in the hoop.''

Krzyzewski said the play was designed either for Laettner to take the shot, or tip it to teammate Thomas Hill if he was unable to control the ball.

``I never saw the ball go through the basket,'' Krzyzewski said. ``I saw him shoot and everybody jumped up. I've seen him shoot so many times. I looked at the arc and I knew it had a chance.''

Laettner scored the Blue Devils' last eight points. He hit four free throws and another improbable, leaning double-clutch eight-foot shot with 32 seconds left that gave Duke a 100-98 lead.

The Wildcats quickly worked the ball downcourt. Versatile Jamal Mashburn got free for a basket and a three-point play - the last of his team-high 28 points. That gave the Wildcats a 101-100 lead with 19.6 seconds remaining.

Laettner drew Mashburn's fifth foul 5.5 seconds later, then hit two free throws for a 102-101 lead.

The Wildcats called their last timeout with 7.8 seconds remaining. Woods blew past Hurley and hit the go-ahead shot, setting up Laettner's heroics.

``I called a timeout, which I don't normally do in that situation, because we had the play to be run,'' Kentucky coach Rick Pitino said. ``The one thing I wanted to do was get the last shot and win it or lose it on our possession. We got it, but there was still two seconds to go.''

The final agonizing seconds of overtime overshadowed a remarkable effort by both teams. Duke shot 65 percent from the field for the game and came within a few inches of losing. Kentucky hit 56.9 percent of its shots, more than half of its 3-point attempts (12 of 22), committed only a dozen turnovers against one of the best defensive teams in college basketball, and lost.

The final seconds of overtime and Laettner's bolt of lightning from the foul line overshadowed a valiant Wildcats comeback. Kentucky trailed by 12 with 11:15 remaining in regulation and by nine with 7:15 to play.

That's when Kentucky's 3-point shooting touch returned and Duke got sloppy with the basketball.

The Wildcats hit seven of their last nine 3-point attempts in the second half and overtime period. Woods' 3-pointer from the top of the key tied the game at 81 with 5:25 remaining, and Dale Brown's trey from the right corner put Kentucky up 89-87, its first lead since midway through the first half.

Thomas Hill's leaning shot in the lane with the shot clock below five seconds gave Duke a 93-91 lead with 1:02 left in regulation.

Kentucky's Deron Feldhaus followed up a John Pelphrey miss with 37 seconds left to tie the score at 93.

Bobby Hurley's 12-foot attempt from the right side of the lane with Woods in his face caromed away with three seconds to play, setting up the overtime.

Krzyzewski was asked if Saturday's game was the most exciting he's ever been a part of. ``It's the most exciting game this year,'' he said. ``I'm not far enough removed to answer that. ... but I've never felt like this before. It's gotta be on Letterman's Top Ten list.''

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