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Duke Gets Its Revenge a Year Later

D uke 79, UNLV 77 .

Anderson Hunt’s ill-con ceived, ill-fated desperation 25-footer skimmed off the glass and the rebound wound up in the arms of Duke point guard Bobby Hurley, pure poetry in motion. This time last year, the only thing Hurley could catch was the flu. You remember Hurley’s face that night: a whiter shade of pale. You remember Hurley’s statistical line that night: two points, five turnovers. You remember Duke losing to UNLV by 30 points that night.

Duke 79, UNLV 77 . Seconds earlier, UNLV had hope because Larry Johnson had the basketball in his hands. The sideline strategy called for Johnson to fire up a three-pointer and there it was unfolding, with the clock ticking, at the right side of the circle. The ball was there. Johnson was there. The shot was there. But Johnson said no and flicked the ball back and out to Hunt, giving up a good five feet on the exchange. For two years now, Jerry Tarkanian has sworn that Johnson is the most unselfish player he has ever coached. No more evidence was needed with five seconds left and the Rebels down by two.

Duke 79, UNLV 77 . Hunt delivered his fallaway castaway from the outpost of point guard, part of UNLV’s problem. For 45 games, rumor had it that the way to beat the Rebels was to get their backcourt in foul trouble. Duke did precisely that, forcing Greg Anthony out of the game with his fifth foul with 3 minutes 51 seconds remaining. UNLV led, 74-71, at the time but Anthony’s departure meant moving Hunt over to point guard, Stacey Augmon over to off-guard and seventh man Evric Gray into the game at small forward. Three minutes later, Duke led.

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Duke 79, UNLV 77 .

Another rumor, another fantasy, another way to defeat UNLV: Deny Johnson the ball. And, while you’re at it, deny the morning the sunrise. But hand it to Mike Krzyzewski--give him a year to think about it and he’ll come up with something. Switching defenses and tag-team blanketing by Greg Koubek and Christian Laettner limited Johnson to six points in the first half and 13 for the game. By himself, Laettner outscored the entire UNLV front line with his game-high 28 points.

Duke 79, UNLV 77 .

A year ago, it was UNLV 103, Duke 73. Johnson, Augmon and Anthony were juniors then. Hunt was a sophomore. In the interim, the Rebels got older, cooler, more aggressive, more confident--and the Blue Devils lost three seniors, Alaa Abdelnaby, Phil Henderson and Robert Brickey. Duke took the court Saturday with two sophomores and a freshman in its starting lineup. The average age of this lineup: 19. On paper, these things cannot happen. In your right mind, Saturday’s outcome is inconceivable. Final Four basketball--the greatest invention known to man.

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Duke 79, UNLV 77 .

On the court, no one south of the NBA Central had the talent to match UNLV this season. On the bench, a different story. NCAA tournament basketball remains, bottom line, a coach’s game--and in this tournament, the NCAA threw the gauntlet at Tarkanian: Georgetown’s John Thompson, Utah’s Rick Majerus, Seton Hall’s P.J. Carlesimo and, finally, Coach K. Ultimately, they just wore down Tarkanian.

Duke 79, UNLV 77 .

The best that can be said about Tarkanian’s laissez faire system is that it lets the players play. Tark recruits sensational athletes and then stays out of their way--which, it should be noted, is no minor achievement. (Please see UCLA Bruins, 1990-91.) That said, Tark’s style is vulnerable whenever UNLV fails to blow out the other side. (Please see UNLV 69, Ball State 67 in third round of 1990 NCAA Tournament.) The Tarkanian philosophy in the nutshell: Things will work themselves out. On those rare occasions when they don’t--when Johnson can’t get the ball, when Anthony fouls out--a little Krzyzewski-style ingenuity can go a long way.

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Duke 79, UNLV 77 .

What becomes of The Greatest Team of Them All? Revision, certainly, is in order, but the UNLV starting lineup continues to stand tall. Johnson will be a lottery pick this summer and the other four Rebel starters have the NBA in their futures. But depth is what separated UNLV from the 1991 championship--and what separates UNLV from the UCLA dynasties of lore. These Rebels barely ran seven deep; their sixth man was a 7-foot center, Elmore Spencer, and their seventh man, Gray, was a forward one year removed from Riverside Community College. The backcourt was Anthony and Hunt and prepare to punt--and Duke, for the first time in 46 games, was able to exploit it. No wonder Tarkanian has nightmares over what happened to Ed O’Bannon and Shon Tarver.

Duke 79, UNLV 77 .

And, now, what becomes of Tarkanian? For the television cameras, he denied reports of his eminent departure--"I’m gonna be back, we’re gonna be very good"--but with four starters gone and UNLV facing probation, you have to wonder. The Final Four shut down on Tark, but some pro coaching jobs are bound to open. In the NBA, nobody goes on probation.

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Duke 79, UNLV 77 .

So who calls to congratulate Krzyzewski first? The NCAA? Or John Wooden?


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