Debbie Krzyzewski stood still as a mannequin. Only the tears glassing over her eyes betrayed her emotions.
Her mother, Mickie, sat next to her, head bowed, eyes wide open. A few feet away,
What a hopeless assignment he had. The Blue Devils trailed
But Kentucky had more than the lead. Kentucky had the spirits, ghosts, gods and whatever else lurked inside the dingy South Philadelphia arena called The Spectrum on its side.
How else to explain the Wildcats' frenzied comeback from a 12-point, second-half deficit? How else to explain Sean Woods' shot, the one he lofted over 6-foot-11
Debbie Krzyzewski knew it was over. So did Mickie. No chance at a second consecutive national championship and a piece of basketball lore. No comparisons to UCLA, the last program to win consecutive titles, that back in 1972 and '73. No fifth consecutive Final Four. Only the middle-of-the-night sweats from nightmares of all those Kentucky 3-pointers and Duke turnovers.
Maybe even Mike Krzyzewski knew it was over. But he couldn't allow his kids to think that. Fact is, when Laettner is around, anything is conceivable. Absolutely anything you could ever conjure up in the most vivid of imaginations.
Remember last year at the Final Four? Laettner, with the bored demeanor of a prodigy playing Chopsticks, buried two free throws to upset mighty Nevada-Las Vegas in the semifinals. Two nights later, fighting complete exhaustion, he made 12 of 12 free throws to beat Kansas for the national title.
Remember the East Regional final two years ago against Connecticut? Laettner, then a mere sophomore, stuck an off-balance 16-footer at the buzzer to win by one in overtime.
Or how about the East final of 1989, when Laettner outdueled a more touted freshman, Georgetown's
All that was mere prelude to Saturday, when Laettner turned the Kentucky bluegrass brown, jogged our memories back to Bill Walton and had thousands, perhaps millions, of observers shouting out loud:
That's the greatest college basketball game ever. Pure, gut-stirring theatre.
With those 2.1 seconds still remaining, Duke's
Laettner, with Kentucky's Deron Feldhaus behind him, timed his jump perfectly. He came down with the ball and took one dribble. He spun to his right. Didn't he realize how little time he had? The clock was inside one second.
Of course he knew. Somewhere in the depths of his mind, a mental alarm clock went off like an air raid siren. Time to shoot.
Laettner let go from 16 feet. The horn sounded. Feldhaus, only 6-7, could only put his arms up and pray. Laettner did the same. He lost sight of the ball as it tracked the rim.
There's a saying around the Duke basketball program: Christian Laettner will not let us lose.
Kentucky had done everything except put a dagger in Laettner's heart, which probably beats every hour or so. That was the Wildcats' dooming mistake.
The ball flew straight for the basket. The crowd's reaction told Laettner, the Dracula of college basketball, everything. The ball had barely disturbed the net.
Duke 104, Kentucky 103. Bedlam. Fans and players spilled onto the court as if a dam had busted loose. Debbie Krzyzewski wasn't crying anymore. She was flat-out bawling. Tears of incredulous joy this time.
The magic carpet ride continues. On to Minneapolis, the Final Four and a Saturday night date with Indiana and its whip-cracking coach, a guy named Bob Knight. He and Krzyzewski share roots deeper than a willow tree's.
The shot was Laettner's 10th of the game. He never missed. He also attempted 10 free throws. He did not miss. A perfect 10. On both counts.
The performance echoed of Walton, who made 21 of 22 shots in the 1973 national final against Memphis State to lead UCLA to its seventh consecutive championship.
``Totally incredible,'' Dracula said of the shot.
Incredible doesn't do it justice.