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Connecticut 77, Duke 74

By SCOTT COFFMAN UPI Contributing Basketball Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., March 29 -- The smothering defense of Connecticut's Ricky Moore forced a traveling violation by Duke's Trajan Langdon with five seconds remaining Monday night that gave the Huskies their first NCAA championship with a shocking 77-74 victory over the Blue Devils. Duke had won 32 straight games and was an overwhelming favorite to become only the second school to win three Division I basketball titles in the same decade. But Connecticut bottled up Duke center Elton Brand in the first half, withstood a Duke surge in the second period and finally came up with the big plays down stretch to make the Huskies national champions in their first trip to the title game. The decisive moment came when Connecticut guard Khalid El-Amin, with his team owning a 75-74 lead, missed a short jumper with 24 seconds to go. Duke came down with the rebound and coach Mike Krzyzewski chose not to call a time out to set up a final play. Instead, Langdon, the Blue Devils' leader and chief outside scoring threat, went to work against Moore -- generally regarded as the best defensive guard in the country. Langdon worked the ball from near the sideline toward the lane with Moore all over him and as Langdon tried to spin in the lane to put up a shot, the pressure of Moore's defense forced him to travel. El-Amin was promptly fouled and he made two free throws to put the Huskies in front by three.

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Langdon again rushed downcourt, but he stumbled and fell to the court near the top of the key as time expired. more

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Duke wound up with a 37-2, missing out on a chance to win more games in one season than any other team in college basketball history. Connecticut lost only to Big East opponents Syracuse and Miami in a 34-2 season and lived up to the words of coach Jim Calhoun, who on the eve of the title game reminded everyone that, 'we're a pretty good basketball team, too.' The championship game was riveting from the start, with six lead changes and seven ties recorded in the first half. But the opening 20 minutes did not bode well for Connecticut because the Huskies shot 54 percent from the floor and outrebounded Duke by seven, yet still trailed. Duke took a 39-37 lead at the break, overcoming a four-point deficit late in the period on the heroics of Langdon, who hit two three-point shots in the final minute and turned one of them into a four-point play when he was fouled. There were seven more ties in the second half, but the lead changed hands only once, that coming when Richard Hamilton scored on a fast break with 13:50 to play to put the Huskies in front, 53-51. Connecticut eventually built a 65-59 lead, its largest of the night, on a Hamilton basket with 8:57 to play, but the Huskies did not score another field goal for 4:39 -- during which time Duke clawed back to the the game at 66-66. El-Amin ended the drought with 4:18 remaining to put the Huskies back in front, but Langdon's two free throws tied it for the final time at 4:07. Connecticut took the lead for good at 3:50 on two free throws from Hamilton and Hamilton hit a three-pointer 20 seconds later to put the Blue Devils in a big hole. Duke came back on one free throw from Chris Carrawell and a clutch three-pointer by Langdon that left the Blue Devils trailing by one with 1:44 to play. But El-Amin then came up with his biggest basket of the game, a floater from just off the lane with 1:05 to go that gave the Huskies a 75-74 lead. Moore fouled Duke's William Avery with 54 seconds remaining and Avery's two free throws were the last points Duke could score. Duke won the national title in 1991 and 1992 and a win Monday night would have made the Blue Devils the only team other than UCLA to win three in a decade. Duke fell to 2-6 in championship games.

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