Misconception

Rick Pitino blew the game against Duke in the East Regional in 1992. He didn't have anyone guard the inbounds pass and allowed a clear pass to Christian Laettner for the game winning shot. Everybody knows you're supposed to guard the inbounder.

The Facts

In the closing moments of the 1992 East Regional game against Duke in the Spectrum. The Blue Devils had one chance to win the game with a few seconds left after Sean Woods had just completed an amazing lay-up which banked in to put the Cats on top, 103 to 102.

Grant Hill threw a three-quarter length pass to Christian Laettner who was positioned at the far free throw line. Laettner caught the ball, spun and nailed the game winning shot. Deron Feldhaus valiantly tried to challenge the shot but was too short and too far from Laettner as he released the ball.



Rebuttal

During the time out before the play, Pitino told Feldhaus and John Pelphrey to sandwich Laettner, (one in front, one in back) so that he could not receive the pass. Pitino did not put a defender on the ball because he felt they needed the extra defender to guard against Laettner receiving the ball and then 1.) shooting or 2.) tipping the ball to the left or right wing where two Blue Devils would be converging from opposite sides to the basket for a lay-up. (Incidentally, Duke was beaten on the very same type of play years later when Cincinnati was able to tip the ball to a streaking player for a dunk in the last seconds.)

The last thing Pitino said to his seniors was "not to foul" which would have given Duke the opportunity to win the game without worrying about the clock. Unfortunately for Kentucky, Pelphrey apparently took the "no foul" instruction to heart and apparently forgot the instruction to sandwich Laettner. As the play unfolded, Pelphrey did not sandwich Laettner as he was told but instead stayed back behind Feldhaus (presumably to guard against a tip to the wings). He was never in the play. [Pelphrey has reportedly been asked about this play, and he explains that the ball was put into play by the official before he expected it to. Thus he was out of position when the play began.]

As for guarding the in-bounds passer, there have been instances in the past where both methods have worked and failed. Personally, I would have brought someone like Andre Riddick with his long arms and active jumping ability off the bench to harrass the inbounds play. Pitino noted in his book, Full Court Pressure that he considered that but feared that the inexperienced Riddick (or Timberlake) might run over an unsuspecting pick and be whistled for a personal foul.

It is interesting to note that Pitino had vowed to himself earlier in his career to defend the in-bounds passer in such situations. As coach of the Providence Friars at the time, his team got beat in overtime after St. John's Walter Berry converted on two free throws after he was able to get off a shot at the end of regulation and was fouled. But the situation the night in Philadelphia was different, as Pitino felt there weren't many viable big-men alternatives to place on the endline.

As it turned out, I think UK would have won if Pitino's advice was followed. To blame the loss on a single play is ludicrous anyway.



The 6'11 Laettner maneuvers to get off the shot against the 6'7 Feldhaus - note the disproportion in the painting

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Jon Scott