Bobby Hurley fouled out with 51 seconds remaining in the second overtime and an Arizona fan sitting behind Duke’s bench pulled a red T-shirt over his head and inched as close as he could to the Blue Devils’ huddle.
He waived his red shirt at Hurley. He waived it at Mike Krzyzewski. Then he turned and waved it over his head so all 13,881 fans at McKale Center could see it. The roar was almost deafening.
The red jersey had a large No. 61 on the back.
Arizona’s 103-96 double-overtime victory over Duke would be its 61st in succession at McKale. It was 25 years ago next week, Feb. 24, 1991, a Sunday afternoon like few others in McKale Center history.
“You reach puberty yet?!” a UA fan yelled as Hurley left the court, a towel over his shoulder, his head down.
Bobby Hurley was a sophomore point guard in the winter of 1990-91 and he had already reached full-blown Villain status here, there and in most college basketball districts, especially here.
A year earlier, almost to the day, Feb. 25, 1990, Duke beat Arizona at Cameron Indoor Stadium, 78-76, and Hurley crept into the hearts of Arizona fans the way UCLA’s Reggie Miller did in the mid-1980s, guaranteeing a victory over the Wildcats at Pauley Pavilion (which failed) and a year later rubbing his fingers together after fouling out at McKale, as if to suggest referee Booker Turner was on the take.
Hurley became Miller times two.
In that 1990 game at Duke, Hurley was part of a Blue Devil defense that took No. 21 Arizona apart, forcing 22 turnovers. Hurley scored only five points, but he was unmistakably Duke’s point man, a cocky, emotional, in-your-jersey freshman who rubbed opponents and their fans the wrong way.
“They grab, hold, push,” said UA guard Matt Othick. He was polite not to include “whine.”
Duke’s physical presence was such that All-Pac-10 senior forward Jud Buechler committed a career-high six turnovers.
So when the Blue Devils flew to Tucson to complete the home-and-home series a year later, it was treated like Tucson’s own private Super Bowl. Duke had reached the national championship game a year earlier and were 23-5, ranked No. 7. (They would win the national title a month later.)
Arizona, 21-5, was ranked No. 9. It would be, some still insist a quarter-century later, the greatest game ever played at McKale.
This time, when the Blue Devils grabbed, held and pushed, Pac-10 referees Richie Ballesteros, Charlie Range and Mark Reischling blew their whistles.
Arizona shot 51 free throws, which was a McKale Center record. Four Blue Devils, including Hurley, fouled out. Duke was called for 35 fouls, also a McKale record. The most compelling player on the court was the 6-foot, 165-pound Hurley, who had 14 points, eight assists and just two turnovers in 46 minutes.
Hurley will make his first return to McKale on Wednesday night, this time as Arizona State’s first-year head coach. He is 44 now, but the old wounds have not disappeared nor been forgotten.
Forty-five days ago in Tempe, Hurley was ejected in the final minute of a 94-82 Wildcat victory, waving his arms defiantly, the way a wrestler like Haystack Calhoun or Rowdy Roddy Piper would do it.
Sun Devil fans loved it. About 3,000 UA fans howled in derision.
“I really wouldn’t have changed anything that I did today in terms of anything that happened,” Hurley said a few minutes later.
Same Bobby Hurley. Don’t you love it?
The UA-ASU basketball rivalry has needed a kick in the pants for more than 30 years, and if it takes an old Duke Blue Devil to put it back into public consciousness, so be it.
The 25th anniversary of that 1991 double-overtime game is a perfect time for Hurley to be reintroduced to McKale Center.
That ’91 game included 11 future NBA players — Brian Williams, Chris Mills, Khalid Reeves, Ed Stokes, Sean Rooks, Matt Othick, Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Brian Davis, Antonio Lang and Hurley — but it was Hurley the crowd wanted to see.
In an interview with the Star a few days before the game, Hurley said he had changed.
“Last year I was too much of a hothead and I let it work in a bad way,” he said. “This year, I’m channeling my emotions the right way.”
After the game, which was typical of Krzyzewski’s locker rooms in the ’90s, every player was made available to the media for about 20 minutes. Hurley stood in front of his locker, putting on a tie, and answered every question.
“This is one of the toughest places to play that I’ve seen,” he said. “The fans are always yelling on your free throws and that can rattle you. The fans are on the refs all the time and that can influence them.”
Krzyzewski, who would not agree to another home-and-home series with Arizona, was similarly upfront.
“Overall,” he said, “this was a great game — a war, really.”
After trotting out failed coaches Bobby Weinhauer, Steve Patterson, Bill Frieder, Rob Evans and Herb Sendek over the last three decades, the Sun Devils might finally have the man to make this series just that.
A basketball war, really.