BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ANCHORAGE, Aka. -- Duke got out-Laettnered.
Bob Huggins hugs Pete Mickeal.
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The Cincinnati Bearcats got a trophy and the collective head of the nation's No. 1 team.
Melvin Levett got the highlight of all the highlights he has created as a UC basketball player, dunking home a pass from center Kenyon Martin with one second left to provide No. 15 UC with a 77-75 win over the top-ranked Blue Devils in the championship game of the Great Alaska Shootout.
They call it the ''home run.'' It is a play taught in coaching clinics all over the nation. It is a play UC worked on several times this week in practice. It is the very same play that Duke turned into a 17-foot jumper by Christian Laettner to defeat Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, a game considered by many to be the best ever played in college basketball.
''It was a great pass,'' Levett said. ''I didn't take a dribble. I just wanted to get in the air as quickly as possible.
''I never thought we'd be going home as champions of this tournament.''
With three seconds left and the score tied at 75, former Middletown High quarterback and current UC power forward Ryan Fletcher threw a pass to Martin at the opposite foul line. Martin did not even turn before making a decision.
Mickeal and Ryan Fletcher put the defensive squeeze on Elton Brand.
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''I saw Mel out of the corner of my eye,'' he said. ''Three seconds is a lot of time. I just didn't want to throw it too hard.''
There remained one second on the clock after Levett's dunk, and Duke nearly executed a play to tie it, with All-American Elton Brand tipping a deep inbounds pass to guard William Avery. But Avery's shot came just after the buzzer and was waved off by official Bob Hunt. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he had no problem with the call.
''I thought they were the better team,'' Krzyzewski said. ''Certainly they played harder than we did for the 40 minutes.''
Duke got 30 points from Avery and 12 from forward Elton Brand. Levett's last two points gave him 25 for the game and helped him break out of the slump that gripped him for the first three games. He was 11-of-14 from the field and made both his three-point attempts. Small forward Pete Mickeal scored 17, and guard Alvin Mitchell 14, six in the final five minutes.
''We had a lot of chances to pack it in,'' coach Bob Huggins said. ''They're a great basketball team. They play so hard, and they're so well-coached and do so many things to win games. They're a deserving No. 1. But I was telling my guys, when you're ranked No. 1, there's a lot of pressure to win.''
Fletcher and Brand reach for a long rebound.
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It's also true when you're way ahead of No. 1, there's a lot of pressure to stay there.
UC allowed all but a single point of a 19-point advantage to slip away in period of 11 minutes, 25 seconds from late in the first half to early in the second.
The game was tied when Avery drove the baseline and lofted a one-hander over three high-flying Bearcats with 12:13 left. It was 55-55, and beginning to sound (and look) ever more like a Blue Devils home game.
Avery finally put Duke in front with 11:23 to play on another brilliant baseline drive, this time dashing past the goal and using the rim to shield away Martin's effort to block the shot.
The Bearcats faltered when they stopped playing aggressively on offense. The same plays they scored upon in the first half, they quickly abandoned in the second. This was particularly the case when Martin or Mickeal caught the ball in the low post and chose not to move to the goal.
UC's only basket in nine trips as the Devils took the lead came on freshman Eugene Land's follow of a missed free throw. With UC down 61-57, they at last got a basket from their halfcourt offense when Mickeal drove the right side and banked one home.
''I did think when we were down four, I said, 'Well, at least we came out and had a good showing,' '' Levett said. ''But something inside us wouldn't let us quit.''
Melvin Levett passes off under pressure from Corey Maggette and Brand.
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The Bearcats switched to a 2-3 zone at the defensive end to cut off Duke's access to the lane, and that led to three empty trips that helped them tie the game. They returned to pushing the ball toward the baseline and got the Mickeal basket, Martin's follow of his own miss and Levett's 10-foot baseline jumper.
Inside the final two minutes, Mitchell grabbed the lead for UC by firing a 25-foot three-pointer from in front of his bench as the shot-clock ticked to five seconds. The lead was back in Duke's hands with 1:46 left, though, as fowrard Chris Carrawell grabbed an offensive rebound, drew a foul and made two free throws to put the score at 70-69.
The Bearcats stormed back, though, with Mitchell's looping drive to move back in front and then a huge three-point drive by Levett for a four-point edge with 55 seconds left.
William Avery's three-pointer with 43 seconds cut that to one point, and Mickeal was purposefully fouled two seconds later. He missed both free throws, but Duke failed to drop shots by Avery and sophomore forward Chris Burgess. Levett rebounded, and Mitchell was fouled with 13 seconds left. He missed the first, badly, but connected on the second.
The free throws were costly. Avery was able to tie the game with three seconds left on a drive down the right side. But that just set the stage for Levett's heroics.
The Bearcats spent the early part of the game in a solid man-to-man, limiting Duke's penetration, staying constantly in front of All-American guard Trajan Langdon and keeping the ball from Brand in the low post.
Trajan Langdon, right, and teammates watch the Bearcats celebrate.
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It worked so well the Blue Devils shot .419 for the half and were 8-of-20 inside the three-point line. They went through a stretch 13 possessions through the middle of the first half and only scored twice, on a layup by Avery when he buried Mitchell with a drive and then when sophomore forward Shane Battier sneaked inside for a layup.
The Bearcats countered those baskets with 19 points, including five in a row when Duke pulled out a fullcourt press in an attempt to energize itself and squeeze out some quick points. UC broke through the first time and got the ball to Mickeal for a slam on Brand, and junior guard Alvin Mitchell drained a three-pointer for a 36-17 lead with 6:18 left.
UC's only defensive failure in the first half was failing to give full weight to the danger of Langdon and Avery as long-range shooters. The Bearcats' indecision in the final minutes of the half cost them several points off their lead. First Aaron McGhee, and then Fletcher, failed to stay with shooters after hedging past screens near the three-point line. Avery nailed one three and Langdon followed to make it an 11-point game.
It looked as though the Bearcats would get into halftime with a comfortable advantage when Levett drove the baseline and pulled up for a 10-footer that made it 45-32, but UC's other four players failed to help Logan as he tried to stop Avery's drive toward a buzzer-beater. Avery flung in an off-balance shot that was good for three-points and 10-point halftime deficit for the Blue Devils.
Fletcher's time is now
Notebook: Ballhandling better
More photos and coverage at the Shootout Web site
Basketball story list
fg ft rb
min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp
Fletcher 37 2-7 2-2 3-6 5 3 6
Mickeal 37 7-10 3-7 4-8 4 2 17
Martin 33 3-8 1-3 2-5 2 4 7
Levett 35 11-14 1-1 3-5 0 0 25
Logan 16 0-3 0-0 0-0 3 0 0
Myrick 7 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 2 2
Mitchell 24 5-7 1-2 0-1 1 2 14
Land 9 3-6 0-0 0-0 0 0 6
Mcghee 2 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
TOTALS 200 32-56 8-15 12-25 15 13 77
Percentages: FG-.571, FT-.533. 3-Point Goals:
5-7, .714 (Levett 2-2, Logan 0-1, Mitchell 3-4).
Team rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 1 (Martin).
Turnovers: 13 (Levett 4, Martin 3, Fletcher 2,
Logan, Mickeal, Mitchell, Myrick). Steals: 6
(Martin 2, Mickeal 2, Fletcher, Mitchell).
fg ft rb
min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp
Carrawell 30 3-10 2-2 4-4 1 3 8
Brand 35 4-7 4-6 1-7 0 2 12
Burgess 24 0-2 0-0 2-4 3 4 0
Avery 36 11-22 3-3 0-1 2 0 30
Langdon 32 4-8 2-2 2-3 0 4 13
James 4 0-0 0-0 0-1 0 0 0
Battier 16 3-4 2-2 2-2 1 3 8
Domzalski 6 0-1 0-0 1-3 1 0 0
Maggette 17 2-5 0-0 3-3 2 0 4
TOTALS 200 27-59 13-15 15-28 10 16 75
Percentages: FG-.458, FT-.867. 3-Point Goals:
8-20, .400 (Avery 5-11, Langdon 3-7, Maggette
0-2). Team rebounds: 5. Blocked shots: 4 (Burgess
3, Brand). Turnovers: 17 (Avery 3, Brand 3,
Langdon 3, Burgess 2, Domzalski 2, Battier,
Carrawell, James, Maggette). Steals: 4 (Brand 2,
Cincinnati 45 32 - 77
Duke 35 40 - 75