Each Monday until the national championship is played in Indianapolis on April 5, One Great Season will count down the Top 10 National Championship games since 1979, when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson squared off in Salt Lake City. Today's No. 9 is the 1999 championship game between Connecticut and Duke, played in St. Petersburg, Fla.
By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
Connecticut and Duke were the only teams to be ranked No. 1 during the 1998-99 regular season, so when the Huskies and Blue Devils won their Final Four semifinal games on March 27, expectations for a great title game shot through the roof of Tropicana Field.
And the sides didn't disappoint two nights later. UConn won its first national championship, 77-74, over a seemingly unbeatable Duke team that was playing in its eighth title game.
The Blue Devils hadn't lost since November and were going for an NCAA-record 38 victories, as well as the school's third national championship.
Connecticut, meanwhile, was a fairly new player in the elite class of college basketball. The Huskies got to the Elite Eight to open the 1990s, only to lose to Duke when Christian Laettner's buzzer-beater sent the Devils to the Final Four.
But to close the decade during which Duke won two national titles, Connecticut earned its first crown for coach Jim Calhoun by playing an up-tempo game that many thought would have favored Duke's more athletic players.
The Huskies, however, got 27 points from All-American Richard Hamilton, as well as two huge defensive stops late in the game.
Connecticut's Ricky Moore, one of the top defenders in the country, got great positioning to force Duke's sharpshooting guard, Trajan Langdon, into a late traveling violation. Moments later, UConn's Khalid El-Amin converted two free throws to stretch the Huskies' lead to 77-74 with 5.2 seconds left.
And when Duke looked for Langdan on its final possession, the fifth-year senior couldn't even get a potential game-tying shot launched because he fell near the three-point arc and lost control of the ball.
With that, UConn had its crown and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was left to ponder a sixth title-game loss.
The Top 10 National Championship Games Since 1979 + No. 10: Indiana State vs. Michigan State, 1979