INDIANAPOLIS -- The National Collegiate Athletic Associatio won't have to worry about taking away this year's men's basketball championship from Nevada-Las Vegas. Duke did all the dirty work.
In one of the most shocking upsets in history of the NCAA tournament, and certainly one of the most stunning reversals, the No. 6 Blue Devils upset the top-ranked Runnin' Rebels, 79-77, in last night's second semifinal game at the Hoosier Dome.
Two free throws by junior center Christian Laettner with 12.7 seconds left, followed by an errant three-point shot by UNLV guard Anderson Hunt, sent the sellout crowd into an uproar and Duke (31-7) into tomorrow's NCAA championship game against Kansas.
The victory by the Blue Devils ended a perfect season for the Runnin' Rebels, who had won their first 34 games this season and 45 straight overall. Laettner led Duke with 28 points, and Hunt scored a game-high 29 for UNLV.
The Runnin' Rebels played the last 3 minutes, 51 seconds without senior point guard Greg Anthony, and UNLV collapsed without him. Trailing 76-74, Duke forced UNLV into a 45-second violation with 1:24 remaining. The Blue Devils came down and got the ball to Brian Davis, who scored inside and was fouled. Davis completed the three-point play for a 77-76 lead with 1:02 to play.
Stacey Augmon missed on a difficult double-pump drive, but Larry Johnson was fouled going for the follow with 49.9 seconds left. He missed the first. After missing the second, Duke's Thomas Hill was called for a lane violation and Johnson made the third to tie the game at 77.
It appeared Hill shot too quickly when he missed a short jumper with 15 seconds left, but Laettner got position for the rebound and was fouled by Evric Gray with 12.7 seconds left. He made both free throws and Johnson called time out for UNLV.
UNLV took a 72-71 lead -- the 12th lead change of the second half -- on a layup by Johnson with a little under five minutes left. Duke freshman Grant Hill then passed the ball right to Anthony, who missed the layup but was followed closely by Hunt. The lead was three for the Runnin' Rebels.
After a missed jumper from the corner by Greg Koubek, the Runnin' Rebels were seemingly in control. But driving to the basket with 3:51 left, Anthony was called for an offensive foul. It was his fifth personal and left the Rebels with one guard, Hunt, playing the point.
It didn't matter because Duke couldn't seem to hit its shots. Davis and Koubek missed short jumpers in the lane for the Blue Devils, and George Ackles tipped in his missed shot for a 76-71 lead. But Bobby Hurley, who earlier had taken a forearm shove from Johnson, came back with a three-point shot, cutting UNLV's lead to 76-74 with 2:14 to play.
After five lead changes and five ties in the first seven minutes of the second half, the Blue Devils jumped ahead 59-57 on a 17-foot baseline jumper by Billy McCaffrey.
After a miss by Stacey Augmon, Duke got out on a fast break, with Laettner scoring on a reverse layup. The Blue Devils built their lead to 64-59 on a short jumper by Greg Koubek.
Two incidents in the second half showed that Duke wasn't going to back down. Both involved Hurley and Hunt. On two occasions the Blue Devils guard fouled his UNLV counterpart going to the basket.
But second incident, with the Runnin' Rebels calling for an intentional foul, as Augmon had been whistled for a few minutes for before, seemed to fire up UNLV. It went on a 7-1 run to take the lead on Hunt's three-point play with a little under nine minutes left.
For a while, it appeared as if Duke were going to be this year's Villanova, with UNLV in the role of Georgetown. For a while, the Blue Devils couldn't miss, and the Runnin' Rebels couldn't run.
But after Duke hit its first five shots and six of its first eight, taking a 15-6 lead, UNLV got its wake-up call. The Rebels started pounding the offensive boards and the Blue Devils as well.
Of their next six baskets, all but one came on second or third chances. A rebound follow by Stacey Augmon tied the game at 18 and after a short jumper by Duke's Thomas Hill returned the lead to the Blue Devils, a three-point shot by Anderson gave UNLV its first lead of the game.
But Duke stayed with the bigger, broader Rebels. Trailing 25-22, Laettner scored on a rebound follow and Hurley hit a three-point shot for a 27-25 lead.
UNLV came back to snatch the lead away, on two baskets by Hunt, but Laettner hit a three-point shot to put the Blue Devils ahead by one. Laettner, who had 20 points in the first half, kept Duke in the game at both ends.
After a drive by Laettner gave Duke a 32-31 lead, and a UNLV turnover gave the Blue Devils the ball, Hurley hit another three. Laettner was fouled on a missed three-pointer by Johnson and made both ends of a one-and-one for a 37-31 lead. It wouldn't last long.
Hunt and Anthony sandwiched three-point shots around a miss by Laettner, tying the game with a little under four minutes left in the first half. A steal off an inbounds pass and a reverse, over-the-head, almost-jam by Anthony gave the Rebels the lead, but McCaffrey came back to tie it on a short baseline jumper.
After a succession of missed shots by both teams, Laettner gave the Blue Devils the lead at 41-39 on a drive. Gray, whose offensive goaltending disallowed an apparent layup by Anthony, redeemed himself with a drive. After a turnover by Duke, Anthony drove on Hurley to put the Rebels ahead at half, 43-41.
It was, from the start, a very different game than last year's. Duke's guards were not unnerved by UNLV, and it was Laettner, not Johnson, who dominated the first 20 minutes. The Blue Devils shot 16-for-31 the half, and the Runnin' Rebels were 19 of 40.