Duke, with Christian Laettner sinking two foul shots with 13 seconds left, rocked the Final Four Saturday night, upsetting defending champion Nevada-Las Vegas 79-77 to advance to the title game and end the Runnin' Rebels bid for an unbeaten season.
In delivering one of the great NCAA Tournament victories, Duke knocked off a No. 1 team that was bidding to become the first since UCLA (1972, '73) to win consecutive titles and the first since Indiana (1976) to go through a season undefeated. UNLV entered the semifinal riding a 45-game winning streak, including 34 this season.Duke, appearing in its fourth straight Final Four, avenged last season's 103-73 humiliation to UNLV in the title game. The No. 6 Blue Devils, 31-7, will face Kansas for the crown Monday night.
"We went into the game thinking we could win, and we went out on the court and did it today," Laettner said. "We had a good game plan and we played our game."
Laettner scored 28 points and went to the line with the score 77-77 and 12.7 seconds to go. Thomas Hill had missed a short jumper, but Laettner was fouled on the rebound. Laettner, the best foul shooter in the tournament, hit both free throws cleanly.
After another timeout, UNLV came down court. All-America Larry Johnson was on the verge of taking a 3-pointer, but he passed to Anderson Hunt. His 3-pointer from 22 feet bounced off the back rim and Duke's Bobby Hurley snared the long rebound as time expired, putting the Blue Devils in position to win their first national title.
"It was a great win for Duke and a great loss for UNLV," UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian said. "I just feel so bad for the kids. This is the greatest group of kids I've ever been around. I just hurt inside for them."
Hunt, the MVP in last year's Final Four, finished with 29 points. Johnson, his team's leading scorer, was held to 13 points but pulled down 13 rebounds. Point guard Greg Anthony, who fouled out with 3:51 left, added 19 points for the Rebels.
Brian Davis scored 15 points for Duke, while Hurley added 12 and Grant Hill 11. Duke was outrebounded 40-26.
UNLV led 43-41 at halftime after trailing by 9 in the opening four minutes. The Rebels this season have trailed only once at the half in 35 games, that coming against Arkansas.
Laettner had 20 points in the opening 20 minutes, getting open down low for easy baskets. Anthony had 16 points for the Rebels, including a driving bank shot with eight seconds left that put his team ahead at the break.
In the second half, UNLV got into deep foul trouble, with center George Ackles picking up his fourth two minutes into the half and Anthony his fourth with 8:16 left.
"When Greg was out of there, we were a little out of sync," Tarkanian said.
But the Rebels moved ahead 76-71, their largest lead of the night, with 2:31 left on Johnson's layup, Hunt's follow shot and Ackles' tap. Hurley followed with a 3-pointer for Duke, and UNLV then allowed the 45-second clock to expire on its next possession. Davis converted a 3-point play with 1:02 left to give Duke a 77-76 lead.
Johnson, the Rebels' best foul shooter, then missed two free throws. But he earned a reprieve on a lane violation and, given another chance, hit a foul shot to make it 77-77, setting the stage for Laettner's free throws and UNLV's final shot.
"I knew he (Laettner) was going to hit at least one," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We thought he would hit two. Then we double-teamed Anderson Hunt so he would not be able to concentrate on finding Johnson right away."
Said Tarkanian: "I was hoping Larry would have taken the three. He had the better shot."
Duke, expected by so many to be overpowered, jumped to a 15-6 lead four minutes into the game, 9 of those points from Laettner and the other 6 from Grant Hill. The Blue Devils hit their first five shots without a turnover, with Laettner repeatedly open inside.
After a timeout, the Rebels followed with a 12-3 run to tie it 18-18 and twice pulled ahead by 3 points. But Duke righted itself again and went back in front 37-31 after Ackles picked up his third foul and Laettner hit a pair of free throws with 4:37 left in the half.
"During the week our kids really concentrated and I have to give them credit," Krzyzewski said. "They really hung in there."
upi 03-30-91 11:02 pes