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Jack Freifelder | | November 15, 2016

Reliving the Duke-Kansas 1991 NCAA Championship game

  Duke, led by the trio of Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner and Grant Hill, bested Kansas for the 1991 NCAA title.

College basketball fans let out a collective sigh this weekend with their favorite teams returning to the hardwood, but it wasn't long before some shockwaves went through the AP Top 25 rankings.

Indiana topped Kansas, Arizona edged out Michigan State, Villanova knocked off Purdue, and UConn fell twice (to Wagner and to Northeastern). There could be more of a shake-up on the way with three Top 25 matchups scheduled for Tuesday.

No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 13 Michigan State

7:00 p.m. Eastern ESPN
No. 9 Wisconsin vs. No. 22 Creighton 8:30 p.m. Eastern Fox Sports 1
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 7 Kansas 9:30 p.m. Eastern ESPN

The first weekend of the season provided some fireworks, that's for sure. And a pair of bouts between college blue bloods in the Champions Classic is sure to please even the most persnickety of college basketball fans.

RELATED: Champions Classic — Duke takes on Kansas; Kentucky battles Michigan State

A look back

A battle between Duke and Kansas comes with a little added oomph thanks to this season marking 25 years since their meeting in the 1990-91 NCAA Championship game (played on April 1, 1991), a matchup the Blue Devils won 72-65. The win would mark the first of five NCAA Championships for Duke under head coach Mike Krzyzewski (the last of which came in 2015).

For those of you who still have the '91 NCAA Tournament Final recorded on VHS, this might be a bit of a spoiler.

For the Blue Devils to reach the title game against Kansas in the 1990-91 season was almost something out of a fairy tale. (Brief aside, any college basketball fan looking back on the 1989-90 season would be remiss if they didn't reminisce over the run made by Loyola Marymount and Bo Kimble in honor of their fallen teammate, Hank Geathers. A 30 for 30, titled Guru of Go chronicles the story.)

After getting to the mountain top the year before ('89-'90) — only to be ousted by UNLV (103-73, one of the most lopsided finishes in championship game history) — Duke would have to go through UNLV once more to get a crack at Roy Williams and the Kansas Jayhawks.

High Five: 1991 NCAA Tournament Moments
A cathartic 79-77 win over UNLV would be the closest scoreline of the tournament for the Blue Devils, but the win would prove be the de facto changing of the guard. Christian Laettner led the way with 28 points to help Duke close out the first national semifinal matchup. On the other side of the bracket, Kansas edged out North Carolina behind the tandem of lead guard Adonis Jordan (16 points, 7 assists) and big man Mark Randall (16 points, 11 boards).

Believe it or not, the 1990-91 championship game was a relatively new experience for both head coaches. Roy Williams reached his first Final Four that year, while Coach Krzyzewski was coaching in his fourth straight and fifth overall since 1986. But neither coach had won a National Championship entering the title game. That would surely change.

An alley-oop from Duke guard Bobby Hurley to Grant Hill provided one of the biggest highlights of the game, albeit in the game's opening minutes.

William C Rhoden, a sports writer for the New York Times, wrote in an article dated April 2, 1991, that Hurley's pass to Hill "set the tone for Duke's performance."

Hurley, who also passed out nine assists and made two steals, set the tone for Duke's performance less then three minutes into the game when he tossed an alley-oop pass to Grant Hill, the 6-foot-8-inch forward. The ball seemed like it would sail over Hill's head, but the freshman soared, stretched grabbed the ball with his right hand, then stuffed it through the hoop for a spectacular one-handed dunk.

The play not only gave Duke a 6-1 lead but shattered any notion of Duke's unpreparedness.

And though Kansas looked a bit out of sorts as Duke took a slim 9-5 lead into the game's first TV timeout, the Jayhawks would eventually find their legs.

  Duke guard Grant Hill (33) fights with Kansas' Alonzo Jamison (24) during the 1991 NCAA title game.
Around the 10-minute mark, a tough bucket in the paint by Randall cut the Duke lead to 22-20. It was clear that the Jayhawks and Blue Devils would be fending each other off all night, but some hot shooting from the Blue Devils allowed them to keep some distance on the scoreboard heading into halftime up eight points.

As Rhoden wrote:

In the first half, Duke controlled the pace and tone of the game to hold a 42-34 lead at intermission. The Jayhawks stayed close on the strength of tough offensive rebounding, scoring 13 of their points in the period on second shots.

The second half was a different story as Duke managed to piece together a double-digit lead on several occasions, reaching a lead of 14 points three times. Kansas would make one final run to close to within five points (70-65) before a dunk by Brian Davis gave Duke a seven point lead, its final margin of victory.

As Rhoden notes:

Playing with a sense of mission, poise and focused determination, Duke methodically took apart the Jayhawks, feather by feather, and defeated Kansas, 72-65, to win the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball championship.

Not only did the Blue Devils win a much deserved national championship, but they removed a burden from their coach's shoulders. 

These two programs have come a long way from their meeting in the 1991 championship game, but both schools have been synonymous with top-tier college basketball for decades. Here's hoping fans will look back at Tuesday's game as fondly.

And for those who are itching at a glance of yesteryear, enjoy the 1991 Championship game in its entirety below.

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