PHILADELPHIA -- Duke was a little more than two seconds away from the end of its magnificent run as college basketball's latest dynasty. Sean Woods was a little more than two seconds away from becoming Kentucky's newest legend.
But Christian Laettner didn't let either happen last night.
Taking a 75-foot inbounds pass from Grant Hill at the foul line, Laettner dribbled once, faked twice and shot a 16-footer that sent the defending champion Blue Devils to a heart-pounding, mind-boggling, 104-103 overtime victory over the Wildcats in the NCAA East Regional final at The Spectrum.
Laettner, who didn't miss any of his 10 attempts from the field and scored a game-high 31 points, made a shot under similar RTC circumstances in the East Regional final two years ago against Connecticut. This time, it sent Duke (32-2) to its fifth straight Final Four.
"I'm sure I will not provide the adjectives that befit this basketball game," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of what is being called one of the greatest college games ever. "It was incredible. I guess that's a good word."
The victory, the 11th straight for the Blue Devils, sent Duke into Saturday's national semifinals at the Metrodome in Minneapolis against Indiana, which beat UCLA earlier in the day. It kept alive Duke's chances of becoming the first team to repeat since the Bruins, who won titles from 1967 to 1973.
It was an agonizing defeat for Kentucky (29-7), which stormed back from a 12-point deficit in the second half and led nearly throughout the entire overtime period, the last time at 103-102 on an equally miraculous shot by Woods, who beat Bobby Hurley and threw in an over-the-shoulder 14-foot bank shot over Laettner.
"We caught a bad break and they executed," said Kentucky coach Rick Pitino. "We might have lost on the scoreboard, but these guys are winners. They'll be back for another day."
It appeared earlier in the overtime that the Wildcats would play another day -- this season. After scoring the first points of overtime on a three-point shot by John Pelphrey for a 96-93 lead, Duke forward Brian Davis was called for his fifth personal with 3:42 remaining.
A steal by Thomas Hill gave the ball back to the Blue Devils and Hurley missed a three-point try. But Grant Hill got the rebound and threw it back to Hurley, whose three-pointer tied the game at 96. Again the door had opened for Duke.
"That hurt us more than any single possession of the game," Pitino said.
The score would be tied at 98 after a spin by Pelphrey and two free throws by Laettner; then, after Woods missed on a drive, Laettner was nearly called for a five-second violation. After a timeout with five seconds left on the 45-second clock, Laettner squeezed between two defenders and banked in a 8-footer for a 100-98 lead with 31.5 seconds left.
But Kentucky answered, as it had all night. This time, it was Mashburn taking an entry pass from Pelphrey in the low post. Two Duke players had gone out to guard Pelphrey, and Mashburn barreled to the basket, made the layup, was fouled by Tony Lang, and completed a three-point play with 19.6 seconds to play.
"There were so many great plays in that game," Krzyzewski said.
These teams were not finished. After a timeout by Kentucky, Laettner drove across the lane and Mashburn tried to swipe the ball from his hands. Instead, the sophomore center who had pounded the Blue Devils for 28 points and 10 rebounds was called for his fifth personal.
Laettner, who would finish 10 of 10 from the line as well, made both free throws for a 102-101 lead with 14.1 seconds left. After the Wildcats moved across half-court, Woods signaled for time with 7.8 seconds to play. In the huddle, Pitino designed a final shot for Woods, which he hoped the senior guard would take at the buzzer.
"I called timeout, which I don't normally do in that situation, because we had the play to be run," said Pitino. "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."
Said Laettner: "We were probably a little disappointed [after Woods' shot]. As lucky as my shot was, he made an incredible shot, because he shot it over Bobby and me."
The Blue Devils immediately called for timeout, setting up a play they hadn't run since a game against Wake Forest last month in Winston-Salem, N.C. In that game, Duke had blown a 10-point lead and lost when Laettner was called for traveling after taking a long inbounds pass from Grant Hill.
"I don't think Christian wanted to be in that situation again, but as long as he was, he wanted to take the shot," said Hill.
"Last time, he threw a curveball," Krzyzewski said of Hill. "This time the pass was right on the money."
With no Kentucky player guarding the inbounds pass, Hill threw the ball long and high in Laettner's direction. With the two tallest Wildcats starters, Mashburn and Gimel Martinez, having fouled out, Kentucky just tried to have its players between Laettner and the basket.
Laettner caught the ball, dribbled and faked right and then left. He went up with two smaller Wildcats in his face and shot. The ball settled into the bottom of the net as the crowd exploded, with Grant Hill doing a full-court -- and bear-hugging Laettner. They were swallowed by teammates and by fans who had rushed onto the court.
"I never thought I would have a better feeling that after the shot I made against Connecticut," said Laettner, who earlier in the night had shown his frustration by intentionally stepping on Kentucky's Aminu Timberlake, a move for which he received a personal and a technical. "But this time it was better."
Said Mashburn: "We made a lucky shot and they made a lucky shot. This is how life goes."
6* Especially for Duke. And for Laettner.