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Date story published: Monday, March 23, 1998

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - This time Kentucky rushed the floor in joyous celebration.

This time Duke took basketball's version of a red-eye flight out of the NCAA Tournament.

This time the last shot missed.

In a 40-minute thriller about as exciting as the famous Christian Laettner game of six years ago, Kentucky beat Duke 86-84 yesterday.

"The ghost has now left the building," said Bill Keightley, UK's equipment manager since 1962 and its beloved Mister Wildcat. "We will no longer have to mention Christian Laettner any more."

Fittingly for the team that made its supposed lack of a marquee player a rallying cry, Kentucky had a multitude of heroes at the end. UK's Laettners included:

* Former walk-on Cameron Mills, whose only basket so far in the tournament, a three-pointer, gave the Cats their first lead, 80-79 with 2:15 left.

* Forward Scott Padgett, whose trey gave UK the lead for good, 84-81, with 39 seconds left.

* Point guard Wayne Turner, whose penetrating drives gave the Cats a reason to believe they could surmount a 17-point deficit with less than 10 minutes left.

Against a team rated No. 1 for most of the season!

"I was expecting us to walk into the locker room with tears in our eyes," Mills said. "I don't know why we're here (in the winning locker room). They beat us in everything the whole game, probably in every phase of the game."

Kentucky, which hadn't trailed in the last 213 game minutes, fell behind immediately and trailed by as much as 38-20 in the first half.

Slumping Trajan Langdon, who had made only four of 17 three-point shots in the tournament, hit three in the first 12 minutes. Two came in a 17-0 run that put Duke ahead 38-20.

"Trajan, he was on fire at the beginning," UK swingman Allen Edwards said. "He was hitting big shots with people in his face. And (Elton) Brand was getting easy baskets inside. They fed on that."

UK rallied to within six near the end of the first half but still trailed 71-54 with less than 10 minutes left.

"It looked like a lot," UK center Nazr Mohammed said of the deficit. "Duke usually doesn't let a team come back."

But Duke squandered a 16-point second-half lead at Michigan early in the season. For this game, UK Coach Tubby Smith decided to go small to better defend the Blue Devils.

Heshimu Evans, who teamed with Padgett as Kentucky's low-rise Twin Towers, began a 17-1 run with a three-pointer. Asked if he sensed the trey would begin to turn the game around, he said, "Actually, I don't know. That's a tough question."

He probably didn't. But barely three minutes later, after Kentucky scored on seven straight possessions, the deficit shrunk to 72-71.

was going in as soon as it left my hand," said Mills, who added, "I was due for a shot to fall."

With the game tied at 81-81 inside the final minute, one of UK's favorite plays yielded a ticket to the Final Four.

The play - called "Power" and run regularly by former UK coach Rick Pitino in last-second situations - had a post player (Padgett) set a pick for the point guard (Turner) at the top of the key.

Turner drove down the lane, then passed back to Padgett at the top of the key. One swish later UK led for good.

"We probably run that play 30 times a game," Padgett said. "The way Wayne was penetrating, they had to help on him. As soon as I caught it, I knew I was going to shoot."

Duke, which made only three of 18 shots in the final 9:37, got within 85-84 when leading scorer Roshown McLeod hit a rainbow three with six seconds left.

When Allen Edwards made only one of two free throws with 4.5 seconds left, Duke had a chance to repeat the Laettner moment. "I've got to admit," Mohammed UK called two timeouts, the first to check Duke's alignment, the second to remind each UK player of the man he was guarding.

Duke wanted to pass long, but Shane Battier settled for an inbounds in backcourt to fellow freshman William Avery.

As instructed, UK guard Jeff Sheppard caused Avery to change direction rather than to speed directly up the court. About 35 feet from the basket, Avery pivoted one last time and fired.

The shot banged off the glass. It never hit the rim. This time Duke missed.