Sunday, March 28, 1999

Face it: UConn was just better




BY PAUL DAUGHERTY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Connecticut swingman Richard Hamilton makes it look easier than it is. Gliding in from the wing and pulling up for the jumper, or flicking away opponents' passes with his long, elastic arms, Hamilton is the kind of player that makes you think, “I could do that.”

        Khalid El-Amin, his teammate, is nothing like that. The 5-foot-10 El-Amin is chunky and quick, but hardly smooth. He's all shoulders and elbows driving the lane. He looks like a fullback playing point guard.

        Together, they stopped Ohio State's season Saturday night. Hamilton and El-Amin, with a major assist to defensive glue Ricky Moore, were better than the Buckeyes' best, Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd. Decisively better. Sometimes, it's that simple.

        With 1:41 to go and the Huskies playing the clock more than they were playing the Buckeyes, Hamilton floated into the lane so swiftly and easily, it looked like he'd been blown in there by his own personal wind. He made the jumpshot just as the shot clock sounded, giving UConn a 61-55 lead.

        “I seen Scoonie Penn was on me,” Hamilton explained. “I'm 6-6, he's 5-10. I tried to get as close to the basket as possible.”

        It was Hamilton's first basket in 14 minutes, but it was the knife to the Buckeyes' year. Judging from the seedings, they'd already taken their season into delightful overtime. But they had no one as good as Hamilton, or El-Amin.

OSU outmanned, outrun
        The Buckeyes hung around, though. Give them credit for that. “We could have gone away,” coach Jim O'Brien said.

        Instead, in the last few minutes of the first half, they made steals on three successive Husky possessions, turning each into baskets. The Buckeyes looked like ants at a picnic, carrying UConn's season off the table. UConn led by one at the break.

        But the Huskies opened the second half with a 15-6 burst, taking a 51-41 lead. They killed Ohio State in transition. “Every time we would take a poor shot or turn the ball over, it would turn into easy baskets for them,” O'Brien said.

        Or, as El-Amin put it, “When we seen the opening, we took it. We took the ball to the basket when the defense had their back to us. We took advantage of their defensive mistakes.”

        Despite being outmanned, the Buckeyes might have pulled off the upset had they not spent so much time looking at the backs of the Huskies' shorts.

        Meanwhile, Moore was in Penn's shirt. Scoonie dominated the South region last weekend, but that was because Moore was playing in the West.

        “I was taking away his drives first,” Moore said. “I wanted to make all his shots tough. He had to make some acrobatic shots.”

        Penn had exactly three remotely open shots in the first half, all of them threes. He made two. With Moore breathing all over him, Scoonie was not the Penn-etrator he was last weekend.

Penn not so mighty
        The acrobatics came mostly late in the game, in the form of desperate heaves from three-point range or lunging, twisting please-foul-me forays into the lane. Penn made three of 13 shots, and had no assists in the second half.

        “Our decision whether to play Ricky on Redd or Scoonie was easy after we watched the tapes,” Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. “As Scoonie goes, so goes Ohio State.”

        Without Penn writing the script, the Buckeyes are average. The last scare they put into the Huskies, Hamilton bludgeoned with that clock-beating, Buckeye-demoralizing jumper in the lane.

        Hamilton had 24 points, El-Amin 18. Penn and Redd got 11 and 15. Ohio State's long and wonderful season was full of twists and turns, most of them pleasant. This last game was as straight-line simple as that jumper Hamilton made in the lane. He and El-Amin were better than Ohio State's best. Decisively.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.

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