Tuesday, March 30, 1999


Turnovers quash Blue Devils' quest for classic ending

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — This was a picture college basketball could not resist. Duke vs. Connecticut, separated by a point in the NCAA Championship game. Trajan Langdon vs. Ricky Moore, separated by inches. Langdon vs. the goal, separated by 20 feet.

Richard Hamilton celebrates.
        This would be a classic ending. How could it not?


        A travel, that's how.

        Langdon tried to spin past Moore for the game-winning basket with under 10 seconds to play, but he advanced too far without a dribble and felt the sting of official Scott Thornley's whistle with 5.4 seconds left.

        No heroics.

        Just a turnover.

        There was heroism, of course, all through the game and on both sides of UConn's riveting 77-74 victory over the top-ranked Blue Devils on Monday at Tropicana Field, which delivered UConn its first NCAA title on its first trip to the Final Four.

        There were forward Richard Hamilton's 27 points, including five in the final four minutes. There were Moore's 13 points, all in a 10-minute first-half stretch that developed when it appeared sophomore Khalid El-Amin was feeling the pressure.

        Perhaps he was, but not by the end. El-Amin's baseline drive to make it a three-point game gave UConn a cushion with a minute left, and then he hit two free throws with 5.2 seconds left that assured UConn could not lose in regulation.

Trajan Langdon stumbles on Duke's last possession.
(AP photo)
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        Langdon tried to drive his way to a game-tying three-pointer, but stumbled out of a triple-team and lost the ball. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, for the fourth time, wound up on the losing side of the NCAA title game.

        “I heard Coach K telling Trajan to go get the ball,” Moore said. “I felt if he got it, he wasn't going to do anything. It was him against me. I had to stay solid, don't go for any pump-fakes, and he tried to spin past me, and he traveled.”

        Despite the inglorious finish, Langdon scored 25 points and connected on every big shot Duke needed. All but two, anyway.

        “He was on me the whole game. It was no different,” Langdon said. “I just wanted to make a move. I might have traveled, I might not. That's the call.

        “But that wasn't the game. There were so many plays. I'm not going to hang my head on that play.”

        The talk through the week, the month, the entire year had been of “greatest” and “best-ever,” that sort of thing. And this was how the college basketball season ended.

        Greatest upset?

        From a numerical standpoint, given the 9 1/2 point line, it was the biggest upset in a championships game.

        Best game ever?

        It certainly belongs with the best of the NCAA title matches, perhaps eclipsing everything that transpired between the 1982 battle won by North Carolina over Georgetown and Monday night. That game, as well, hinged on a turnover, if you'll recall Fred Brown's errant pass to the Tar Heels' James Worthy.

        “It was one of the greatest games I've ever been involved in,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. “When the kids were saying they wanted Duke instead of Michigan State, I kind of thought maybe the wise head knows better. But the kids knew better.

        “We've got a group of players who truly believed this was possible, when everybody around us thought otherwise. I don't blame them. I was leading the parade talking about how great Duke was.”

        The Blue Devils had won 32 consecutive games, all but four of those by double-digit margins, and were in their fifth title game this decade. They had begun and ended the season with the No. 1 ranking, but here they showed themselves to be mortal, struggling against Michigan State in the semifinals and then laboring through most of the championship after jumping to a 9-2 lead.

        They held a 46-41 advantage early in the second half, but were caught just three trips later and trailed through most of what remained.

        National player of the year Elton Brand scored 15 points and got 13 rebounds, but was allowed to shoot just eight times from the field. UConn got a stirring defensive effort from 6-11 junior Jake Voskuhl, with relief from 6-11 Souleymane Wane and help from power forward Kevin Freeman.

        “They made it really tought to get open looks,” Brand said. “They were dropping down. They were fighting every posseession, every time I touched it.”

        UConn surged from a 66-all tie with 4:53 left to a five-point advantage 75 seconds later on two free throws by Hamilton that were awarded when he was shoved out of bounds and a three-pointer by Hamilton that resulted from a steal by guard Moore.

        The Huskies had the ball and a four-point advantage with just over 2:40 left, but El-Amin stumbled and was called for a travel with 2:15 left. UConn's defense squeezed the shot it wanted from the Devils, Carrawell firing a three-pointer from the left corner, but forward Shane Battier pulled down a mammoth rebound for Duke and sent the ball to Langdon behind the three-point line.

        When that shot landed, it was 73-72.

        El-Amin atoned with his brilliant drive around Brand that made it a three-point game just as the clock hit 1:00. The Huskies did not force Duke to consume enough time, though, fouling Avery just six seconds later. He made two free throws.

        UConn had an opportunity to squeeze two possessions into the time that remained, but wound down the shot-clock and wound up with a forced shot by El-Amin that Brand appeared to knick. Carrawell rebounded, and Duke cleared out for Langdon against Moore, UConn's top defender.

        Duke lost.

        “We wanted to come out and definitely prove everyone wrong,” El-Amin said. “I think we did that.”

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                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Freeman         32   3-6   0-0   5-8  0  1    6
Hamilton        38 10-22   5-6   4-7  3  1   27
Voskuhl         28   1-1   0-0   0-3  2  3    2
Ricky Moore     37  6-10   0-1   0-8  2  4   13
El-amin         22  5-12   2-4   3-4  4  3   12
Wane             8   2-2   0-0   0-0  0  4    4
Mouring         17   3-4   0-1   0-3  0  1    6
Saunders        11   1-3   2-4   0-3  0  3    4
Jones            6   1-1   1-2   0-2  0  0    3
Klaiber          1   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
TOTALS         200 32-61 10-18 12-38 11 20   77

Percentages: FG-.525, FT-.556. 3-Point Goals: 3-8, .375 (Hamilton 2-4, Ricky Moore 1-1, El-amin 0-2, Mouring 0-1). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 6 (Freeman 3, Voskuhl 2, Mouring). Turnovers: 16 (El-amin 6, Freeman 3, Ricky Moore 3, Mouring 2, Jones, Saunders). Steals: 4 (Hamilton 2, Ricky Moore, Wane).

DUKE (74) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Carrawell 31 3-7 3-4 0-4 2 4 9 Battier 33 2-7 1-2 3-4 2 3 6 Brand 38 5-8 5-8 2-13 0 3 15 Avery 36 3-12 4-4 2-4 5 4 11 Langdon 38 7-15 6-7 0-1 1 2 25 James 6 0-0 0-0 0-1 0 0 0 Maggette 11 3-7 2-2 0-0 0 2 8 Burgess 7 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 23-56 21-27 7-27 10 19 74 _______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.411, FT-.778. 3-Point Goals: 7-19, .368 (Carrawell 0-2, Battier 1-3, Avery 1-3, Langdon 5-10, Maggette 0-1). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 4 (Carrawell 2, Brand 2). Turnovers: 19 (Carrawell 4, Brand 3, Langdon 2, Maggette 2, Avery). Steals: 6 (Langdon 3, Brand 2, Carrawell). __________________________________ Connecticut 37 40 - 77 Duke 39 35 - 74 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 41,340. Officials: Tim Higgins, Gerald Boudreaux, Scott Thornley.