Duke had an exceptionally talented basketball team in 1991-92. At the end, their record would be 34-2. They won the ACC regular season and the ACC Tournament. Even some naysayers were convinced that Duke deserved their season-long number one ranking in the nation.
When it came time for the NCAA Tournament, Duke won the first few games quite handily. Then in a now-famous game against sixth-ranked Kentucky, Laettner hit the buzzer beater for a resounding win: 104-103. There may have been a slight let-down for the following Final Four game against Cheaney’s Indiana team. Christian Laettner came off the amazing Kentucky win a little flat. In the Indiana game he only scored 8, though he pulled down 10 rebounds. Maybe this should have stood as an omen for the championship contest.
Now Duke faced Michigan’s Fab Five, a team they had barely beaten in overtime during the season: 88-85. Now, of course, Michigan wanted revenge badly. During the first half it appeared that the Wolverines might just get their wish. I had never seen Laettner so sloppy, seemingly lackadaisical throughout—it was truly alarming. I wondered if there was perhaps an attitude problem. By the time the half came to a close, Duke was losing 31-30. Laettner’s 7 turnovers exceeded his 5-point score total. Stalking to the locker room after the buzzer, Krzyzewski shouted to an assistant, “Laettner is killing us.”
We don’t know what occurred in the locker room at halftime, but we do hear that some harsh words were passed out. Whatever was said lit a cherry bomb under Christian Laettner. In the first play of the second half Hurley set him up for a left-handed layup, and the next time down the court, Christian sank a 3-pointer. The score put Duke ahead 35-33 and it was almost like the whole team got an adrenaline jumpstart.
However, about halfway through the second half, Webber helped spur a comeback that cut Duke’s lead to three: 46-43. Next time down the court, Laettner cut his way through three looming Wolverines for a layup, lighting the spark for a 23-6 spurt from which Michigan would never recover. Contrasted with the 12 turnovers in the first half, Duke only committed 2 in the second. Duke had put on a show, allowing only 20 Michigan points while scoring 41. It hadn’t been the prettiest game as a whole but the team got the job done. Laettner ended up with 19 points, Grant Hill with 18, Thomas Hill, 16.
Never a man of many words, after the game Laettner said, “I was not attacking tonight. I was looking to pass and I was making a lot of bad decisions. My team would rather me shoot.” No kidding.