This article is the third of 16 in our "Coach K's Sweet 16" series, where we will walk back through the legendary head coach's career and recap his most iconic moments. For the full list, click here.
Despite a 29-8 record going into the contest, Duke suffered an embarrassing defeat to UNLV in the 1990 National Championship game.
The Blue Devils lost 103-73, which is still the largest margin of defeat in a title game. Duke, a No. 3-seed, wasn’t able to handle the Rebels’ star-studded lineup that shot 61.2% from the field, with guard Anderson Hunt leading the way with 29 points.
It’s obvious that the Blue Devils had an axe to grind in 1991. During that regular season, Christian Laettner, Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley lead the team to a 25-6 record and the ACC regular season title. Duke was a No. 2-seed in the Midwest Region, with another monolith UNLV squad, a group that was undefeated until the tournament, on the same side of the bracket. The Blue Devils, however, saw this as an opportunity, rather than something to fear—they would be able to get their revenge. Duke cruised by Louisiana-Monroe, Iowa, Connecticut and St. John’s in order to meet the Rebels in the Final Four in Indianapolis.
Duke’s big three of Laettner, Hill and Hurley were determined to get back at UNLV, as Laettner had 28 points and 7 rebounds, Hurley had 12 points and 7 assists, and Hill had 11 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Considering that five players in the Rebels' rotation eventually made it to the NBA, these were very impressive performances. With a few seconds to go, Laettner hit two free throws in order to give Duke a 79-77 lead. This was enough for a victory, as Hunt was unable to hit a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.
The Blue Devils had a lot to celebrate after the game, as they were able to beat the team that blew them out the on the biggest stage the previous year. However, Coach K shut down such festivities, as Duke still had business to take care of. A few days later, the Blue Devils beat Kansas 72-65 in order to give Coach K and the program a first National Championship.
The Final Four upset was an amazing moment for Coach K, as it demonstrated how he was able to light a fire under his team in a quest to seek revenge. This utilization of determination and passion has been a staple of the program’s culture since this upset, and it will endure for years to come.