Tuesday marks the 25th anniversary of one of the greatest college basketball games of all time, the 1992 Elite 8 classic between Duke and Kentucky that ended with Christian Laettner’s buzzer-beating game winner in overtime that became known as “The Shot.”
But to get off that shot, Laettner needed a perfect pass that went three quarters of the court. Grant Hill, now a Turner Sports analyst who will call his third Final Four this weekend on CBS, provided that. Going for its second straight national championship, Duke returned all its key players from the year before and were the heavy favorites to win the East Regional in Philadelphia.
The Blue Devils took a five-point lead at halftime and were up by as many as 12 in the second half, but Kentucky tied the game with under one minute left to force overtime. Sean Woods put the Wildcats up one in OT with 2.1 seconds left. Mike Krzyzewski called timeout and set up a play for Hill to inbound from Duke’s baseline. What transpired in that moment after is one of the greatest sequences in the history of American sports.
Awful Announcing spoke with Hill to get a first-hand account of how he remembers the game and how it still affects him 25 years later.
I think we felt pretty good. We had just beaten Seton Hall in the Sweet 16. We knew Kentucky was a good team. I knew Jamal Mashburn from when I was 13 years old. But not to say we were overconfident, I just think we felt pretty prepared and ready. This was sort of the last step to get to the Final Four, and I think individually and collectively as a team, we were pretty locked in going into that game.
We kinda had the game under control. We came out, we played well, we handled their press. We had a lead of eight, nine, 12 points. We were in good shape in the second half. In that situation, we were really good. Second half, up big. We could close out games and really kind of knock a team out. And we started kind of messing around. We got overconfident.
We started getting careless, maybe a little complacent. And credit Kentucky. They started getting steals and hitting threes, and we missed some assignments. And next thing you know, we’re in a dogfight. And they start to believe now, and they get some rhythm and confidence. And then we needed the heroics of Christian to sort of bail us out. On one hand I’m like mad that we almost blew it being kind of reckless out there, but on the other hand, having gone through that, it gave us the opportunity to make a great play that people still remember to this day. If we had closed out the game and won by 10, nobody would remember the Kentucky game, you know? So it’s funny how that works.
At that one moment when Sean Woods hit that shot and we’re going to the bench, it all happened so fast that it was almost hard to digest what had just happened. So as we went to the bench, and coach spoke with us and got us ready to go, you’re just trying to process it all. You’re competing. You’re taught, you’re conditioned as an athlete to fight to the end. As long as there’s time on the clock, there’s an opportunity to compete. I don’t know if I was thinking anything at that moment. You’re just sort of instinctively playing and getting ready for that next play.
We didn’t practice that play in particular, but we would practice full-court passes, we would practice end-of-game situations. But that [specific] play? No. I don’t think we ever practiced that particular play. We would do things like end-of-game situations like you’re down five with a minute left, or you gotta go the full length of the court and you have five seconds. But Coach K would draw up plays, and sometimes you gotta try to execute them in practice against competition. But that play in particular, I don’t remember ever running that play or having it in our arsenal. But I could be wrong.
We had the play [call] where we had a couple of things that could happen, but I was just like ‘look, I’m getting him the ball. I’m throwing it to Laettner.’ And we’re going to live or die with Laettner trying to make the catch and the play there. That’s what I was going to do. I wasn’t going to do anything else.
It all happened so fast. I think a couple of things are going to go through your mind. One, you throw it and it feels like ‘okay, it’s a good pass.’ That’s the first thing. It came out of my hands good, and Laettner has a chance to make a clean catch. Then he catches it, and then takes a dribble. And then you’re thinking ‘no! No! No! No! No! Don’t dribble! There’s not enough time! No! No! No! No! Don’t dribble!’
And when he shot and released it, two things [came to mind]. One, I’m right behind him so I could see that the shot is right on line. And then it felt like the ball was in the air forever. Then the shot goes in and you’re in disbelief and then you just want to celebrate and run to catch Christian. It was an amazing turn of events. You knew at that moment that it was something special.
After the game, we didn’t see the play until probably the next day. The game’s over, you got your media stuff. There’s no phones, no replay, there’s no video in the locker room where you could see the play. I don’t think we really understood it until the next day. We flew home late that night on a charter, and the next day you see the highlights and you’re like ‘wow.’ I’m in the tournament the next couple of years, graduate and then when I’m in the pros and I’m watching the tournament and they’re showing that play, that’s when it hit me like ‘okay, this is right up there with Michael Jordan’s three or the pass from Dereck Whittenberg to Lorenzo Charles.’ This is kind of a big moment.
I don’t know if I ever expected anything, but I am sort of in awe of the fact that it is 25 years and people still talk about it. And whether it’s you and I talking about it in an interview, or I could be somewhere randomly and somebody will come up and say ‘oh man, I was at that game at the Spectrum, or I remember that I was at my friend’s house in Myrtle Beach, S.C. watching that game.’ You know, it amazes me that it still seems fresh in the minds of so many fans from back in the day.