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November 13, 2012
Kentucky meets Duke at Champions Classic in Atlanta
At first, it seemed like Willie Cauley-Stein was kidding. But the shaking head and the blank stare came to be too convincing.
It turns out that the Kentucky freshman really never has seen the Christian Laettner backbreaker, the buzzer-beater that broke so many Wildcat fans' hearts in 1992, the year before Cauley-Stein was born.
"I don't keep up with that," Cauley-Stein said.
But surely he'd seen a replay?
"No," he said.
But he's heard of the shot? Knows who Laettner is?
"Nope," Cauley-Stein replied.
So to be clear, Kentucky's Tuesday tilt with Duke won't have much historic significance for Cauley-Stein. But that's fine. The here and now is tantalizing enough.
The No. 3-ranked Wildcats (1-0) and No. 9 Blue Devils (1-0) both have talented rosters and Final Four aspirations, and their get-together at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta figures to draw a big crowd and a sizeable national TV audience.
And though it might not jog many memories for Cauley-Stein, the college basketball fan at large will sense some history when Kentucky and Duke meet. And the mere sight of the Blue Devils will have some Cat fans seeing red.
"I know they don't like Duke," freshman guard Archie Goodwin said. "And I know Duke don't like Kentucky. It's a lot of schools, seems like, don't like Kentucky nowadays. I know it's a very heated battle."
And Tuesday figures to be a second-straight heated game for the Cats.
Kentucky opened its season last Friday with a 72-69 win against Maryland, a game in which the Wildcats were outrebounded 54-38 and allowed 28 offensive rebounds and 19 second-chance points.
Duke poses a different sort of challenge. Though the Blue Devils have a powerful post player in 6-foot-10, 235-pound senior Mason Plumlee, they're more known for their ability to spread the floor and fire from long range. Duke made 11-of-24 three-pointers in its season-opening win against Georgia State.
"They give you a different kind of look than Maryland," UK coach John Calipari said. "Maryland we didn't think would take more than 15, 16 threes. Duke could take 25 threes if they're available. If not, they're going to throw it inside or drive for layups."
There's not much familiarity between foes. Though Laettner's shot ranks among the most famous in the history of the sport, the Cats and Blue Devils have played just three times since that 1992 classic and not since 2001.
Still, it's a rivalry game of sorts. The schools have 30 Final Fours and 12 NCAA titles between them, they've met in a national title game - Kentucky won, in 1978 - along with a Sweet 16 and two Elite Eights.
And there's that 1992 game, consistently ranked as the greatest played in the history of the NCAA Tournament and the subject of a book earlier this year to mark its 20th anniversary.
"Look, it's a big-time game because it's Duke and Kentucky," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a news conference last week. "It's in Atlanta. Part of a great doubleheader (with Kansas and Michigan State). It's exciting to be involved in that."
The Dome holds some 30,000 fans, and many of them figure to be wearing some combination of royal blue and white.
"This isn't going to be 70 percent Kentucky," Calipari said. "Duke is going to have their fans. Kansas, Michigan State will have their fans. But us and Duke will probably have the majority of the fans. But we're on a neutral court, which is an NCAA environment, and it gets you to learn about your team."