The 1992 Final Four: Duke Goes Back-To-Back
The city of Minneapolis had been the epicenter of the sports world from late 1991 to the end of March in 1992. The Twins had made—and won—the World Series the previous October. The Super Bowl, won by the Washington Redskins, was held there in January. Now the Metrodome was set to play host to the 1992 Final Four, as the Duke Blue Devils sought to become the first repeat national champion since the John Wooden era.
Duke was only here in the Twin Cities by the narrowest of margins. Their regional final game against Kentucky had been one of the greatest college basketball games every played. It went to overtime and the Blue Devils trailed 103-102 until Christian Laettner caught a full-court pass from Grant Hill and hit a turnaround jumper at the buzzer to win it.
It was a game that has lived on to this day and followed both coaches—Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, and then-Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, even when they met in the regional finals of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, with Pitino by then at Louisville.
The other three entrants had their own stories to tell. Michigan was the first team to make the Final Four with an all-freshman lineup. The best player was Chris Webber, who would one day star for the Sacramento Kings in the NBA. Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard would also have good pro careers. The Wolverines beat the top two seeds in the Southeast Regional, Oklahoma State and Ohio State to get here.
Bob Knight brought Indiana to the Final Four for the fourth time in his career, and no one could have known that it was his last, or that this group of players, led by forward Calbert Cheaney, were his last genuinely outstanding team (they made a good run in 1993, but a key injury left them one game short of the Final Four). IU had finished the regular season on down note, but bounced back to play their best basketball of the season in eliminating Shaquille O’Neal and LSU in the second round, #3-seed Florida State in the Sweet 16 and then blasting top-seeded UCLA to win the West.
Cincinnati was the outlier, at least in terms of national prominence. Bob Huggins’ Bearcats were the 4-seed in the Midwest and had been able to ride through a bracket gutted by upsets, including to #1-seed Kansas in the second round. Cincy took advantage and routed Memphis to win the regional.
The early game was Cincinnati-Michigan, and the Wolverines proved to be too strong on the boards and in the lane. Led by Webber, Michigan enjoyed a 45-27 rebounding advantage. The Bearcats could only hope to counter with the three-ball, but they struggled to a 6/22 day behind the arc. The Wolverines only attempted eight treys and used a balanced offense to churn out a win in a good 76-72 game.
Indiana-Duke was the heavyweight fight in prime-time, and this was the game seen as the de facto national championship battle. Indiana led 42-37 at half, but fouls were piling up. Duke made hay at the line, outscoring IU 28-8 on free throw points. One key Hoosier after another went to the bench and the Blue Devils looked in command down the stretch.
Then Todd Leary, a reserve shooting guard suddenly went crazy, hit three consecutive treys and Indiana got the ball for one last attempt, trailing 81-78. Duke made sure Leary got nowhere the ball, although Hoosier guard Jamaal Meeks got a clean look from the corner. Meeks was still not a shooter though, and the ball clanged off the rim, putting Duke in the final.
Even though Michigan led the championship game at halftime, at 31-30, it still ended up anticlimactic. Duke pulled away quickly after intermission and coasted in to a 71-51 win. Laettner had 19 points/7 rebounds, while Hill posted an 18/10. But for the entire weekend in Minneapolis, junior point guard Bobby Hurley was the hero.
In the two games, Hurley scored a combined 35 points and effectively ran the Duke offense. He was named Most Outstanding Player and the Dookies were back-to-back champs. It was the first time since 1973 a team could say that and it wouldn’t happen again until Florida turned the trick in 2006-07.
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