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A Few Of Our Favorite K Games

It's been an incredible ride, hasn't it?

Duke celebrates after beating Michigan for the NCAA title in 1992.
Duke celebrates after beating Michigan for the NCAA title in 1992.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Though Coach K is on the threshold of 1,000 wins, an amazing accomplishment, we really didn't want to talk a whole lot about it until it was closer.

Don't get us wrong, we're thrilled and amazed like most Duke fans. It just seemed like spending the whole early part of the season going on about it wasn't the best move.

As we look back over his time at Duke, we thought it would be a good idea to step back and look at the best/most important games and also our favorite players of the Krzyzewski era.

Games first, in no particular order. Players will come later.

The Gene Banks game.

In Coach K's first year at Duke, he inherited Gene Banks, Kenny Dennard, Jim Suddath, Vince Taylor, Chip Engelland and Tom Emma from his predecessor Bill Foster. Obviously Mike Gminski had gone on to the NBA by then and Duke, on the way to an NIT bid, was not the same team it had been.

But it still had Banks, Dennard and Taylor, and Banks always - always - had an instinct for drama, and so it was for his final appearance in Cameron when Dean Smith brought UNC over.

So when Duke was able to get the ball to him at the top of they key at the end of regulation, it came as no surprise that he got the shot off over the outstretched hand of UNC's Sam Perkins. Duke won in overtime.

Before the game, Banks threw roses to the Cameron Crazies.  He was one of a kind.

The Ralph Sampson game.

In the 1983 ACC Tournament, Virginia beat the snot out of Duke, winning 109-66. Afterwards, Ralph Sampson complained that he thought Duke played dirty.

At a Denny's afterwards, someone in the Duke camp raised a glass and said "here's to forgetting tonight." Coach K responded quickly saying, "here's to never forgetting tonight."

The next year Tommy Amaker arrived and Duke won 24 games. And it was years before Virginia beat Duke again.

It's probably been years since the staff ate at a Denny's, for that matter.

The First Dean Dome Game

As time has gone on, Sam Cassell's characterization of the Dean Dome has stuck: it's a cheese and wine crowd. UNC has tried to tweak the building's seating, but it's still a big, sterile place with rare outbursts of passion.

Didn't seem like that when it opened in January 1986.

It was massive, far beyond the capacity of Cameron or Reynolds, even combined. It was like nothing any of us had ever seen, and the first game had this sense of...maybe UNC had just flown past everyone else into a different sort of future.

Duke came over on January 18th for the first game, which ended up being a 95-92 win for UNC. But what we remember is the resilience that team showed in a massively hostile environment. At that point, there was still a sense of absolute UNC superiority and Duke wins were not common.  You got a sense that this group was different.

Since then the Dean Dome has become what ACC fans know and no longer fear. You can hear the players, the coaches instructions, even the shoe squeaks during a game.

The Terry Sanford Game

After Maryland's Herman Veal was accused of sexual assault, the Crazies really let him have it. This didn't go over well with the DC/Baltimore media, which ripped Duke a new one. After the game, Terry Sanford, then Duke's president wrote his now famous "avuncular letter" to the students urging better behavior.

So they showed up for the UNC game with tin foil halos and chanted "we beg to differ."

Afterwards, Smith sniffed that that didn't make up for past behavior.

A few years later, he got married and chose Duke Chapel for the occasion. His car got dented. We're pretty sure that was an accident, but then again you never know.

The Al McGuire Game

It's less about the game than McGuire. We can't even remember the opponent.

What we do remember is watching McGuire come out with a whip and chair, wearing a pith helmet, pretending to tame the crowd. It was absolutely brilliant theater and a nice tip of the hat to the Crazies and the culture that had developed, first under Vic Bubas, then under Bill Foster and Coach K.

The David Rivers Game

Duke and Notre Dame played reasonably often during the 70s and 80s. In 1986, Digger Phelps had David Rivers, who was a tremendous guard and, incidentally, a St. Anthony's and Bob Hurley product.

Duke led 75-74 when Rivers brought the ball down and faced off with Duke legend Johnny Dawkins. Rivers juked a few times then took a shot from between the foul line and the top of the key.

Dawkins, in one of the greatest defensive plays in Cameron history, went up and took the shot away.

Somewhere in Jersey City, we like to think that young Bobby and Danny Hurley were watching on TV and no doubt cursing Dawkins. An amazing play by an amazing player.

Kansas 1988

After the 1986 class graduated - Jay Bilas, Johnny Dawkins, David Henderson, Mark Alarie - Duke had trouble getting the offense going at times. But not the defense - with Billy King, Tommy Amaker and Robert Brickey - that was rock solid. On several occasions that year, there were points in games when Duke essentially just shut the other team down and slowly climbed back in it. So it was at Kansas.

We don't have access to a record for that game, but KU was up something like 27-8 and it looked as if Duke was going to be embarrassed. But the Blue Devils just shut Kansas down offensively and slowly but surely fought back. The Blue Devils won, 74-70.

UNLV, 1991

Unquestionably, Vegas embarrassed Duke in 1990's title game. Coach K said later that he wasn't sure he wanted to show the team the tape prior to the rematch, but that when he looked at it, there were essentially two stretches where Vegas dominated. The rest? Not so much.

And in 1991, Duke had added Grant Hill to the mix.

Still, Vegas had Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon, a dynamic backcourt with Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt, and a reasonable center in George Ackles.  By the way, the father of Duke recruit Chase Jeter, Chris, came off the bench for the Rebels.

It was the single greatest atmosphere we've ever seen in a college game from beginning to end. Before the game, we saw an elderly Vegas fan in a leather mini skirt with a T-shirt which read "The NCAA Doesn't Know Diddly."

When the Vegas team came on the floor, it was hissed by the other three sides. Never seen that before. And the was tense and dramatic. When Bobby Hurley hit his famous late three, the Hoosier Dome went wild. And when Duke had the lead, 79-77, and Vegas missed its last shot...there was a sense of ecstasy we've never seen at any event. An elderly man ran up and down the stairs high-fiving everyone in sight. A chant of 35-1! 35-1! 35-1! sprang up.

The title game with Kansas was far more important - had Duke lost that, the Vegas memory would be great but hardly the same. But the Vegas game was the greatest sporting event we've ever seen live. Maybe the World Cup Finals are like that.

Kentucky, 1992

The Kentucky game was amazing, and the final play epic, but we'd still put the Vegas game ahead if only because Duke was almost universally expected to lose. Duke was supposed to beat UK, and handily.

Of course it didn't work out that way. Kentucky played a brilliant game, one it absolutely deserved to win. But Laettner's shot was on a different level of clutch. Nothing before or since has matched it, which is why CBS still torments Kentucky fans every spring by showing it dozens of times during the NCAA Tournament.

We have immense respect for the members of that Kentucky team and would have had no problem pulling for them had they won. No team ever worked harder or did more with less than the 1992 Kentucky team. Still amazing.

Michigan, 1992

Okay, the championship was fun, but the December rematch was even more fun.

Before the second game, the Michigan kids were yapping about how Duke "stole our championship" and the like. Once we heard that, we knew: Michigan had no chance whatsoever in Cameron.

Duke took them apart and won 79-68. As usual, the Fab Five crumbled when the game pressure was intense. Carolina games are hard to match, but that game came pretty close. It was as intense as anything we can remember outside of UNC.

Grant Hill vs. UNC, 1993

Duke won without too much trouble, 81-67, but what we still remember from that game was just how great Hill was on one particular play: The Tar Heels had a four-on-one break, which should have been easy money.


Hill busted it up. By his lonesome.

Watching him bring the ball upcourt...what could anyone say after that? It was his ball, his game, his world. What a great moment.

UNC 1997

This was the comeback game, Wojo's senior night if we recall correctly. Duke was down 17 before turning on the afterburners, catching up to UNC and beating them in one of the greatest moments in Cameron history. The energy was off the charts as Duke roared back and when the Devils took the lead, the noise was truly awe inspiring.

Duke-Maryland series, 2000-01

ACC teams don't play each other four times very often. Duke and Maryland did in 2000-01. Duke won in College Park; Maryland won in Durham. Duke won in the ACC Tournament 84-82.

Maryland was more than ready for Duke in the Final Four and shot out to a 20 point lead. In the huddle, Coach K urged his team to relax and "just play," which they did.

The lead dwindled, and soon Gary Williams was reduced to yelling "how bad do you want Duke to win this game!" at the officials. Duke ended up winning 95-84.

Arizona, 2001

You can look down the NCAA champions, Duke and otherwise, and you will be really hard-pressed to find a better championship effort than what Shane Battier produced in this one.

And there have been great champions. Bobby Joe Hill. Bill Walton. David Thompson. The entire Villanova team in 1985. Khalid El-Amin.

No one - none of them - were better than Shane Battier was in this game. He was like Patton dashing across France, a man embracing his dream and destiny. If you get a chance, watch the game on ESPN Classics or whatever. He was astounding. Favorite play: blocking a shot, catching it and throwing it behind his back to a teammate as he fell out of bounds. Second favorite: a tip-in with his fingernails.

People say it all the time but Battier did it: he gave all.

JJ Redick's senior year

No one could stop Redick, and he was a fairly ordinary athlete, really. But he honed his game and his shot to an extraordinary level. Watching teams try to stop him, and fail, time after time - it was a joy. Redick was as close to perfect as a shooting guard could get.

The Butler Game 2010

Brad Stevens used the 2010 tournament to introduce his genius to the basketball world. Duke had an unusual team by Duke standards. It struggled for part of the season before some coaching tweaks gave the team its best shot. Coach K put Jon Scheyer at the point and slowed the team down to accomodate Scheyer and Greg Zoubek, a big but not fleet center.

In the title game, Butler, still seen as a vast underdog, gave Duke all it wanted.

In the closing seconds, Zoubek did three things which essentially sealed the win: 1) he forced a timeout on an in-bounds pass by the Bulldogs. 2) He pressured Gordon Hayward's shot from the corner and corralled the rebound and 3) missed the second foul shot intentionally.

Coach K's thought was that he would rather end the game than risk overtime given how well Butler had played. Gordon Heyward's final shot came very close to going in, and the tautest title game in recent years went to Duke.

Oregon 2011

This was one of the few chances we had to see Kyrie Irving at his best before his injury. He was beautiful. He ran the offense with aplomb, hitting Plumlees for alley-oops, dominating Oregon. We've seen it again in the NBA, but this was his best performance in college. If he had stayed healthy, Duke might have gone undefeated. He was that good.

The Austin Rivers Game 2012

Surely you remember Austin Rivers rocking back and forth, getting Tyler Zeller off balance before releasing a three-point dagger which shocked the entire city of Chapel Hill. The Daily Tar Heel (we think) did a documentary on game day and when the shot went in, the videographer was in a bar. People were asking "what just happened?" Until someone said "shut the ****king camera off!"

You have to remember that at the beginning, everything went UNC's way. The ending was sudden, shocking and, for Duke fans, beautiful.

There are some others we didn't list but could have: the Gone in 56 Seconds Game, where Jason Williams gutted Maryland in the last minute. The Carolina game in Jon Scheyer's senior year, 2010, which Duke won 82-50. The game where Gary Williams got two technicals in the first few minutes. All of them were great. But this will do.