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Game goes down as one of the best in basketball history

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.--Just how good was the Duke-Alabama women's basketball game on Saturday night?

Well, do any of you Dukies remember a certain men's game between Duke and Kentucky back in 1992?

Following Alabama's 121-120 win over Duke in four overtimes Saturday in the NCAA tournament's second round, the comparisons between the two games were made quickly and convincingly.

"I think it had some similarities," said Duke head coach Gail Goestenkors. "[Duke-Kentucky] was a game where both teams continued to make great plays. It's not that it went into overtime because of poor play. It was one great play after another.

"And I think that's what you saw tonight. You didn't see a lot of mistakes. You saw a lot of great plays. That's what makes it so similar, and that's what makes it such a great game."

In that 1992 game, the Duke men reached the Final Four by beating Kentucky 104-103 on a Christian Laettner shot at the buzzer in overtime.

So how could one even think of comparing the two games? Isn't it blasphemous to compare anything to that all-time gem, which ESPN has called the best college basketball game ever?

For all of you who didn't see Saturday's game, shame on you for jumping to uneducated conclusions.

You want overtimes?

Well, then Duke-vs.-Alabama was Duke-vs.-Kentucky-times-four.

You want a buzzer-beater?

Niesa Johnson, the Crimson Tide's star guard, nailed a 24-foot off-balance three-pointer to send the game to its first overtime.

You want intensity?

Neither team ever led in the game by more than seven points. And it wasn't because of lack of scoring. This was a high-paced game full of splendid offensive execution. At the end of regulation and the first three overtimes, one of the teams came oh-so-close to winning the game in dramatic fashion every time.

You want high stakes?

These were two top-20 teams vying for a chance to meet top-ranked Conncecticut Thursday in the Sweet 16.

You probably get the point. It was a game worthy of mention with the greatest basketball games ever.

"We played fantastic, we really did," Duke center Alison Day said. "They played so well, too."

"It was definitely the best game I've been in in my life," Duke senior forward Carey Kauffman said. "That's quite an accomplishment considering the games we've been in this year with Carolina [a 74-72 Duke win on a buzzer-beater by Day] and Virginia [when Duke erased a 22-point deficit to win in overtime in the ACC semifinals].

"Quadruple overtime, I mean, you couldn't have asked for more from each team. I don't think anybody really deserved to lose this game."

And from the winners?

"Yes, I think it was [the best game I've ever been in]," Johnson said.

There were no true women's basketball historians on the premises following the game, but there was a general consensus that it was the best women's basketball game in history. Goestenkors said that one of the games that she previously considered tops was the 1993 ACC tournament final between Maryland and Virginia. The Cavaliers won the title with a 106-103 decision in triple overtime in a game that also included buzzer-beaters.

"That was one of the most incredible games I've seen," Goestenkors said. "This tops that game. That game gave me a new respect for women's basketball. Becauses it was a nationally televised game, a lot of people understood the significance and how exciting women's basketball could be.

"This most definitely was a better game overall than that game."

Still, this one was different. Only 1,966 fans witnessed it first-hand, and there was no television broadcast. For that reason, its legend may not grow as big as some of the other great games.

"It's unfortunate that this game could not be seen by a national audience," Goestenkors said. "It's very sad for me to see this exciting tournament and this tremendous game--to see only 1,900 people show up is a crime. They don't know what they're missing.

"As I said, I couldn't be any prouder of my team. I think it was one of the greatest basketball games ever played."

Once the disappointment of the loss becomes less acute, the Blue Devil players will likely begin to realize what took place on the night of March 18.

"It's hard to feel really excited, even though I know it was a great game," junior guard Jennifer Scanlon said. "Probably when I look back, I'll think, `God, we played one of the best games ever played.' But right now, it's hard to feel excited."


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