UK Men's Basketball

John Clay: UK basketball's latest duels with Duke

Kentucky's Wayne Turner drove around Duke's Steve Wojciechowski during the 1998 NCAA South Regional finals.
Kentucky's Wayne Turner drove around Duke's Steve Wojciechowski during the 1998 NCAA South Regional finals. LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

At the Barclays Center on Friday night, surprisingly there were more Maryland fans than Kentucky fans in the house — Maryland fans who took great joy in booing the Big Blue from opening introductions to final horn.

Not that Kentucky fans took this quietly, mind you. There were chants of "Go Big Blue" and audible eruptions at Kentucky baskets. And there was the satisfied cheer at game's end when UK escaped with a win.

There was one instance, however, when the two warring fan bases agreed.

During a timeout, the big video board high above the Barclays Court showed a patron showing off his Duke T-shirt. That easily brought the loudest boos of the night.

It's easy to see why Maryland fans feel such animosity toward their Blue Devil brothers from the ACC. The Terps must play Coach K and his mighty squad annually without a whole lot of success.

And yet when most think of Duke basketball and rivalry it is (1) North Carolina and (2) Kentucky.

Fact: When the Cats and Blue Devils meet Tuesday night during the Champions Classic in Atlanta, the two sides won't have met on the basketball court in 11 years.

Truth of the matter is the two basketball powers have a long and storied history, just not so much against each other, except of course for that 1992 NCAA thriller that remains etched in stone as the greatest game in the history of college basketball.

Christian Laettner. OK, I said it. Not saying it again.

The teams have met just three times since the Philadelphia epic. The first came six years later, again in an NCAA regional finals but this time with a distinctly different outcome. The second came just nine months after that, this time in New Jersey. The third came in December 2001 and was a near-classic, especially for a regular-season game.

Let's review:

March 22, 1998, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.: This was the South Region finals, the game in which the Blue Devils led by as many as 18 points only to succumb to a furious rally from Tubby Smith's Comeback Cats.

Duke held a 71-54 advantage before a Cameron Mills three-pointer finally gave UK the lead. After Duke inched ahead again, Scott Padgett drilled a three for a three-point advantage and helped Kentucky walk off with an 86-84 win and its third consecutive trip to the Final Four.

What you may have forgotten is that Elton Brand scored just four points for the Blue Devils. Jeff Sheppard led the Cats with 18. Mills' memorable three was his only field goal. Duke made just 16 of 26 free throws.

Dec. 22, 1998, in East Rutherford, N.J.: This meeting was part of the Jimmy V Classic, with Duke ranked No. 2 and Kentucky No. 3 in the AP poll. It was also a game in which UK was done in by its own poor shooting.

The Cats made just 34.9 percent of their shots and missed 13 of their 16 attempts from three-point range. Heshimu Evans missed six of his seven three-point attempts, which begged the question of why Evans was taking seven threes.

Brand made up for his NCAA flop back in March, scoring 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Trajan Langdon added 18 for the Devils, who started the second half with an 11-0 run for a 50-34 lead. Duke went on to win 71-60.

Dec. 18, 2001, in East Rutherford, N.J.: Another Jimmy V Classic matchup. Duke was ranked No. 1 and Kentucky ranked seventh, but by the end of the night, one that took 45 minutes, there was but a three-point basket's worth of difference between the two squads.

The star was Jay Williams, back then known as Jason Williams. The Duke guard scored 38 points, hitting 12 of 21 shots from the floor, including seven of 10 from beyond the three-point line. When Kentucky surged in front 61-52 with 11:13 left, Williams went to work, scoring 25 points the rest of the way.

The little-known nugget from that matchup was that UK was led in scoring by none other than Rashaad Carruth, who scored 19 points off the bench, hitting seven of his 10 shots.

After a 43-40 Kentucky lead at the half, Duke rallied to send the game into overtime tied 78-78. From there, UK led 89-88 only to watch Williams nail yet another three-pointer. Duke never looked back, winning 95-92.

We've spent too much time looking back. Way too much. The two sides have not met on the court since and it's been far too long.

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