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On This Date in Sports March 29, 1999: Top Dogs

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

UConn is top dog, edging Duke 77-74 in the NCAA Championship Game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. It is the first championship for Jim Calhoun and the Huskies in Men’s Basketball. Richard Hamilton leads the way for Connecticut, scoring 27 points in the final as he is named Most Outstanding Player. Both teams were #1 seeds, with Duke holding a record of 37-1 entering the game.

The 1998/99 season looked as if it was going to be the year of the Blue Devils, as Duke seeking a third National Championship under Mike Krzyzewski after posting a record of 32-1 during the regular season, with the only blemish coming against Cincinnati in the Great Alaskan Shootout. The Huskies of UConn were nearly as strong, compiling a record of 28-2, having started the season 19-0. The only blemishes for UConn were a pair of losses in February to Miami and Syracuse.

It was NCAA Tournament dominated by the top seeds, as Michigan State also a #1 was joined by #4 Ohio State to round out the Final Four with UConn and Duke. The Blue Devils rolled through the East Region, starting the tournament with a 99-58 win over Florida A&M and beating Tulsa 97-56. In the Sweet 16, they beat Southwest Missouri State 78-61 before beating Temple 85-64 in the Regional Final at the Meadowlands. UConn had to play in the West Region, due to Duke getting the #1 seed, but breezed through the first two rounds beating UTSA 91-66 and New Mexico 78-56. The Sweet 16 would not be as easy as the Huskies held off Iowa 78-68. In the Regional Final in Phoenix, it would be a dogfight as UConn held off Gonzaga 67-62 to reach the Final Four for the first time in school history.

Michigan State led by Tom Izzo was also #1 seed, making their first Final Four in since winning the tournament in 1979. The Spartans road to St. Pete started with a 76-63 over Mount St. Mary’s next was a 74-66 win over Ole Miss. In the Sweet 16, Michigan State smothered Oklahoma 54-46 than defeated Kentucky 73-66 in the Regional Final in St. Louis. Ohio State coached by Jim O’Brien coming out of the South Region was a surprise as they beat Murray State 72-58 and Detroit 75-44 to reach the Sweet 16 in Knoxville. From there they upset #1 Auburn 72-64 and #3 St. John’s 77-74 to reach the Final Four for the first time in 31 years.

In the semifinals, UConn won a nail biter against Ohio State 64-58, while Duke held off a second-half charge to beat Michigan State 68-62.

Heading into the championship game, Duke was a nine and half point favorite as they were riding a 32-game winning streak. The first half showed all the makings of a classic as both teams appeared to be at the top of their game with six lead changes and seven ties as Duke led UConn 39-37. In the second half, it was Richard Hamilton stepping up when the Huskies needed him most, scoring a game-high 27 points with seven rebounds, earning the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. Trajan Langdon meanwhile led the way for the Blue Devils, scoring 25 points, while Elton Brand added 15. Late in the game, it was Khalid El-Amin making the big shots, as UConn answered every time Duke appeared poised to take the lead, including two clutch free throws in the final seconds to close a 77-74 win.