Sunday, March 21, 1999


Huskies meet Final Four destiny

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PHOENIX — On the day Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun wept, destiny smiled on a gritty West Regional championship game Saturday.

        “It was destiny for us to get here and make some noise, and we made some,” Gonzaga forward Richie Frahm said after his Bulldogs fell 67-62 to UConn at America West Arena.

        “And it was destiny for UConn to go to the Final Four, and they did that finally and you have to congratulate them,” Frahm said. “The world isn't always perfect, but sometimes hard work does pay off, and I'm glad it did for them, because they've been working hard the last few years to get there.”

        Nine years to be exact. Ever since Duke's Christian Laettner hit a jumper with one second left in overtime of the East Regional title game. The Huskies suffered two more Elite Eight heartbreaks in the '90s, to UCLA in 1995 and to North Carolina last year.

        But this time, UConn forward Richard Hamilton broke Gonzaga's heart with 21 points and a defensive effort that helped reduce the Bulldogs' notorious three-point attack to 5-of-21 after they had knocked down 23 of 42 in their last two games.

        When he wasn't hitting his feathery jumper in the lane, Hamilton was taking away Frahm's three-point flings, holding him to one three-pointer and seven points.

        Now, after 27 years and 552 victories, Calhoun is off to his first Final Four in Saturday's semifinal against Ohio State's Jim O'Brien, a coach Calhoun beat 18 straight times while O'Brien was at Boston College.

        “After we won the game, I told him I wanted him to go into the Hall of Fame the right way,” UConn guard Khalid El-Amin said. “Not as the best coach who never went to the Final Four, but one of the best coaches in NCAA history.”

        Forward Edmund Saunders said Calhoun cried in the locker room after the game, but he no doubt was sweating bullets with 35 seconds left, when Gonzaga guard Quentin Hall's acrobatic three-pointer cut the Huskies' lead to 63-62.

        “If it said on their jerseys Michigan State or something like that,” Calhoun said, “you'd have us believing that's who we were playing the way they played.”

        But the 10th-seeded Zags couldn't hold up down the stretch. Hamilton, who had hit a 9-foot jumper to break a 53-53 tie, found center Jake Voskuhl for a layup with a whip pass underneath to make it 63-59 with 62 seconds left, and Gonzaga couldn't recover.

        Gonzaga's wondrous run in the tourney died in the paint, where UConn's quickness and size racked up 42 points and a 47-33 rebounding edge. But that didn't stop coach Dan Monson from using a bottomless well of defenses. Knowing he had no one to match up with the 6-foot-6 Hamilton, Monson couldn't play man-to-man. So he tried a diamond-and-one, plus a variety of zones.

        “The problem is when you're in zone with the athletes like they have, they're just piranhas on the boards,” Monson said. “You had to sacrifice the rebounding to junk up the defense. It's a lot harder to rebound in a zone, and that ended up paying the price by the end of the game. They had 21 offensive rebounds. Cut that in half, and we're up second on the podium.”

        But it was the Huskies who were second to the postgame news conference. They had to cut down the nets after they had cut down the NCAA Tournament's best outside shooters.

        With Hamilton draped on Frahm, UConn guard Ricky Moore forced Matt Santangelo into a 1-of-9 night, 0-of-4 on three-pointers.

        “How many times do we see people like that?” Santangelo asked. “Moore's a great defender — so quick, so strong, aggressive. He never let me into a rhythm. I could never really square my shoulders or get my feet under me to knock down a shot.”

        Frahm, who hit five of eight three-pointers Thursday in the victory over Florida, saluted they way the Huskies handled Gonzaga's screens.

        “(Hamilton) played defense within the team concept,” Frahm said. “He would trail (me) and then have other guys on the screen play us physically off of them so we couldn't get open looks.” Frahm said.

        Calhoun, who has had a running war with the media about his lack of a Final Four appearance, tried not to act differently. The players knew, though, and doused him with the water bucket right after the CBS on-court interview.

        “I'm not any better of a coach than I was a couple of hours ago,” Calhoun said. “Just tired. And wet.”