Was Christian Laettner’s Buzzer-Beater the Greatest Shot in NCAA Tournament History?
The 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled last weak due to the spread of the coronavirus across the country. March will, unfortunately, have no madness at all this year.
Instead of a full slate of games starting up this Thursday, we will have to find another way to entertain ourselves. All we can do is reminisce of tournaments in the past: the best Cinderellas, the biggest upsets, and the greatest shots in the history of March Madness.
Christian Laettner’s buzzer-beating game-winner against Kentucky in 1992 was since dubbed “The Shot.” It might be the most iconic moments in the history of the NCAA Tournament, but was it the greatest shot ever in college basketball?
Christian Laettner’s “The Shot”
Almost 30 years ago, Laettner powered Duke past Kentucky with one of the most famous shots in basketball history. Every March Madness montage features his 15-foot turnaround jumper that capped off a historic game in NCAA Tournament history.
It was the East Regional final between Duke and Kentucky. Coach K versus Rick Pitino. Jamal Mashburn versus Christian Laettner. It had everything a basketball fan could ask for: drama, physicality, overtime, and of course, a buzzer-beater heard around the world.
Duke and Kentucky went back and forth all game and ended up in overtime after Bobby Hurley missed a floater at the end of regulation. Kentucky took a one-point lead with 2.1 seconds left on a Sean Woods hook shot. All hope seemed lost for Duke to make it to their fourth consecutive Final Four, but Laettner wasn’t going to be denied.
Grant Hill sent a perfectly placed, football-style pass to the opposite free-throw line and right into Laettner’s hands. Laettner faked left, dribbled right, and spun back left to throw up a fadeaway jumper as the buzzer sounded. Nothing but net.
Duke went on to win the national title.
What are some of the other iconic shots in March Madness history?
Bryce Drew’s buzzer-beater against Mississippi in 1998 had a similar feel to the Laettner game-winner. With 2.5 seconds left, Valparaiso heaved the ball the length of the court. It somehow found its way into Drew’s hands and he drained a 3-pointer to win the game. No. 13 seed Valparaiso knocked off No. 4 Ole Miss in the first round, 70-69.
Maybe the biggest buzzer-beater in the biggest moment came from North Carolina State’s miracle upset against Houston in the 1983 national title game. Jim Valvano led the Wolfpack to a miraculous stretch of wins, but the game-winner capped it all off. Dereck Whittenburg heaved a long three as the clock ticked down, and Lorenzo Charles grabbed it in front of the rim and dunked it home at the buzzer to win the championship.
Just recently, Kris Jenkins of Villanova hit a buzzer-beating three to win the 2016 national title. Marcus Paige’s 3-pointer to tie the game was maybe even more impressive on the possession before, but it wasn’t as clutch. Jenkins received a shovel pass from way beyond the three-point line with the clock running out. He caught and fired in one motion and drained the shot to give the Wildcats the title.
“I Hate Christian Laettner”
Laettner was so polarizing as a college basketball player, he even had an ESPN 30 for 30 film made about the hatred he received from fans and opponents. Whether they hated his attitude, his on-court antics, or simply his ability to win, everyone in 1992 had a reason to hate Christian Laettner.
That’s what makes Laettner’s shot against Kentucky the greatest ever in the NCAA Tournament. While the entire world rooted for him to fail, Laettner rose up and drilled the game-winning shot. He didn’t just beat Kentucky that day. He beat all of his haters who couldn’t stand to see him succeed.