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Bookmark: Reads to make your March mad

March 22, 2012|By Julia Keller, The Chicago Tribune

The cat was never the same.

Her name was Zelda, and all I can say is: Sorry, Zelda. But the real apology ought to come from Christian Laettner.

One minute Zelda was resting comfortably on my lap, dozing in that languid, loose-limbed, trusting manner that cats exhibit, and the next minute she was flying straight up in the air as if shot out of a cannon, uttering a strangled cry of shock and terror.

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It was March 28, 1992, and I was watching the East Regional final in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, the same tournament that got under way once again last week. Then as now, Duke and Kentucky had big-time players and big-name coaches. Only one team, however, had Laettner — Duke's handsome, arrogant center — and it was Laettner who, with Duke trailing by a point and with 2.1 seconds left in overtime, caught a long inbounds pass, dribbled once and hit the jump shot that won the game.

Forgetting about the cat in my lap — I'm not a cat person, a fact that never seemed to faze Zelda, who would cheerfully climb right back up again after my repeated attempts to dislodge her — I jumped out of my chair, sacrificing at least eight of Zelda's nine lives with that heedless leap.

Gene Wojciechowski has doubtless heard stories such as mine over and over again, because in the intervening years, that 1992 game has become iconic. And Laettner's last-second heroics routinely prompt anecdotes of the I-remember-exactly-where-I-was-when-I-saw-it variety.

Wojciechowski's new book, "The Last Great Game: Duke vs. Kentucky and the 2.1 Seconds That Changed Basketball" (Blue Rider), is an enthralling account of a magnificent contest and the circumstances leading up to it. The author digs up great details about these elite programs and the people who made them that way, and he brings a zestful wit and winning style to the telling.

Here's how Wojciechowski describes Laettner's inauspicious arrival at Duke: "Christian Laettner stood alone in his empty dorm room, his bags still packed, his college life only minutes old. A day earlier his dad had pulled the Plymouth Voyager loaded with Laettners and luggage out of the driveway of their rural home in Angola, New York, and begun the 12-hour drive to Durham, North Carolina."

And here is Wojciechowski's take on Bobby Hurley, Laettner's scrappy teammate: "A 6 foot (maybe), 150-pound, handkerchief-white newcomer with sleepy eyes and a 'Fuhgeddaboutit' Jersey accent."

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