Laettner's competitive drive steers Duke to title

April 02, 1991|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Evening Sun Staff

INDIANAPOLIS -- When Duke's Brian Davis speaks of teammate Christian Laettner, he uses words like "friend" and "competitor," words that immediately appear to be at loggerheads with each other.

Yet to see Laettner, named the outstanding player of the Final Four, out of uniform, then watch him perform is to understand the contradictions, for Laettner is as driven on the floor as he is seemingly low-key off it.

"He's such a competitor," Davis said of his best friend. "He has such a competitive drive that it rubs off on all of us and makes us better."

That drive rubbed off enough to make Duke national champion with a 72-65 win over Kansas in last night's NCAA title game.

For all the talk of point guard Bobby Hurley's determination and spirit, it is clear that this is Laettner's team, the way it was Danny Ferry's before him, and Johnny Dawkins' before Ferry.

"For this team, he's the best player," said Davis. "There may be more talented players in the country, but I don't think there's a guy who dominates the way Christian does."

The 6-foot-11 junior from Angola, N.Y., made the Final Four his personal showcase, with 18 points and 10 rebounds after notching 28 points in the Blue Devils' stunning upset of Nevada-Las Vegas in Saturday's semifinals.

His constant movement to the basket made it difficult for the smaller Jayhawks to contain him.

"Christian Laettner was very tough for us to handle inside," said Kansas coach Roy Williams. "He had some big offensive rebounds and I don't know that he missed at the free throw line."

In fact, he didn't, making all 12 of his foul shots, tying an NCAA championship game record for free-throw accuracy.

Only UCLA's Gail Goodrich, who hit 18 foul shots in the 1965 title game against Michigan, ever hit more free throws than Laettner, who made 21 of 23 foul shots in becoming the all-time tournament leader in career free throws attempted and made.

In addition, last night's game marked the 18th time this season that Laettner, a second team All-American and second runner-up to North Carolina State's Rodney Monroe and Georgia Tech's Kenny Anderson for ACC Player of the Year honors, has posted double figures in points and rebounds.

Laettner, who moved up to seventh on the list of career NCAA tournament scorers, was predictably low-key following the game about his accomplishments, preferring to deflect the spotlight of the national championship to his coach and teammates.

"This is great that we can give a really big trophy to Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] that he can bring home to Duke," said Laettner. "We did it for the fans. We're in it for the team and for everyone, not just personally."

But he was continually fiery during the game, shouting an obscenity to teammate Thomas Hill and ordering him to play better defense.

"His friendship has really helped this team," said Davis. "He really gets us going."

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