UConn knocks off Duke in NCAA title game

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Connecticut spoiled the Duke Invitational.
The Huskies beat top-ranked Duke, the team no one thought could be beaten in this NCAA tournament, for their first national championship in their first Final Four appearance.
Monday night’s 77-74 thriller ended Duke’s 32-game winning streak, kept the Blue Devils from an NCAA record for wins in a season, and prevented them from ending the ’90s with a third national championship.
Richard Hamilton led third-ranked Connecticut (34-2) with 27 points, but it was some tremendous team defense and a big shot and free throws by Khalid El-Amin that won it all.
Trajan Langdon led Duke (37-2) with 25 points, but Duke’s last two possessions ended with him making turnovers. And so the Blue Devils fell short of what everyone had expected — another title.
These were the only two teams to hold the No. 1 ranking this season and they played a final game worthy of the two best.
“We lost to a great basketball team. We were beaten tonight, we didn’t lose,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
“We picked it up in the second half and we had some opportunities, but they put the pressure on us and were tough to defend,” he said. “We got some good looks and had a chance to win, but they made the play and we didn’t make the play in the last minute.”
Connecticut was able to keep the game at a pace it liked even though most everyone thought the Huskies should try to slow the tempo. The quick pace made for what seemed like constant lead changes, the last coming with 3:50 to play when Hamilton’s free throws gave the Huskies a 70-68 lead.
He hit a 3-pointer 21 seconds later for a five-point lead and suddenly Duke was playing a role it had very little experience at this season — the chaser.
“We’re happy as heck, and we truly believed we could beat them,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. “I said before the game that we hadn’t played our best yet. If you count character, I think tonight we did.”
William Avery’s free throws with 54 seconds left got the Blue Devils within 75-74. El-Amin, whose driving basket had given Connecticut the 75-72 lead, missed on a drive with 24 seconds left and Duke had life.
The crowd of 41,340 at Tropicana Field, the court where Duke’s season ended a year ago, was roaring as the Blue Devils went for the final shot without calling a timeout.
Langdon, the fifth-year senior who made the Final Four in his last chance, tried to get by Ricky Moore, one of the game’s best defenders. Langdon spun but Moore was there. Langdon took an extra step and was called for traveling with 5.4 seconds to go.
El-Amin made two free throws with 5.2 seconds left to get the lead back to 3, and Langdon’s last chance at tying the game ended when he fell near the 3-point line and lost control of the ball.
With that, Connecticut charged the court and had the title everyone thought Duke would claim.
“We really worked hard as a team,” Moore said. “I wanted to come out and prove myself. I wanted to show I have an offensive game as well as a defensive game. I wanted to shock the world.”
It was Duke’s eighth Final Four under Krzyzewski, who was trying to become the fourth coach to win a third national championship.
Calhoun, labeled one of the best coaches never to reach a Final Four, finally did, and left the court with a national title in his 27th season, the last 13 at Connecticut.
Duke finishes tied with the 1986 Duke team and UNLV in 1987 with 37 victories. The loss also gives Duke a 2-6 record in national championship games, the titles coming in 1991 and 1992.
This title was the first for the Big East since Villanova pulled off another huge upset in 1985, beating Georgetown.
Hamilton, a first-team All-American who was 10-for-22 from the field and had seven rebounds, finished as the tournament’s leading scorer with 145 points in the six games, a 24.1 average. He was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Moore scored all 13 of his points in the first half and El-Amin had 12.
Langdon was 7-for-15 from the field, including 5-for-10 from 3-point range, and Avery had 11 points and five assists.
Duke’s only other loss was by one point to Cincinnati in November and only four times did a team come within 10 points of the Blue Devils, who led the nation in scoring (92.3) and margin of victory (25.4).