Tuesday, March 23, 1999

UConn's Freeman is the power in the post

Associated Press Writer

        STORRS, Conn. — Make it to the Final Four, and suddenly everyone's your friend or long-lost kin.

        Connecticut All-American Richard Hamilton and teammate Kevin Freeman had dozens of phone messages awaiting them when the Huskies returned from beating Gonzaga on Saturday in the West Regional title game.

        The solution was to disconnect the phone and let parents dole out the six tickets each player is allotted.

        “I try not to get caught up in that stuff,” Freeman said. “You've got a lot of people who really don't know you or were your friend in the past. Then you've got relatives that want to fly in from everywhere. They can make it to Florida, but they couldn't make it to Hartford.”

        Freeman's postseason play has been a big reason why relatives have been able to come out of the woodwork. Huskies (32-2) are headed to St. Petersburg, Fla., the school's first Final Four appearance in 21 tries in the NCAA tournament.

        Freeman had 13 points and a career-high 15 rebounds — 10 off the offensive boards — in UConn's 67-62 victory over Gonzaga to advance to St. Petersburg, Fla. In the final minutes, he hit two free throws to give UConn the lead for good at 57-55 and then iced the game with two more from the line with 6.2 seconds left.

        With the game on the line, there were no butterflies. Just net.

        “Hopefully I can have that same confidence and God will bless me with the same strokes to allow the ball to go in,” Freeman said Monday. “It's just a matter of focus.”

        The Huskies, winners of the West Regional, take on Ohio State on Saturday. The Buckeyes (27-8) advanced to the Final Four with a 77-74 victory over St. John's in the South Regional final.

        He was snubbed three weeks ago when it came time to pick the Big East's first, second or third all-conference teams, but has gotten accolades since with his rebounding and clutch shooting.

        Freeman was named to the West Regional All-Tournament team. And his performance in the conference tournament earlier this month earned him Most Outstanding Player honors.

        His award-winning efforts aren't anything out of the ordinary for the 6-foot-7 junior.

        “He has the incredible ability to will himself to do things,” said coach Jim Calhoun. “He's done it in a humble sort of way.”

        The team's leading rebounder, the muscular Freeman is averaging 7.3 rebounds. With 12.6 points per game, he's the third-leading scorer behind Hamilton and flashy point guard Khalid El-Amin.

        When they've gone cold at times — El-Amin was 0-for-12 against Gonzaga — the Huskies look inside to Freemen and get results.

        “Kevin brings toughness. He brings it consistently,” center Jake Voskuhl said. “He's playing the best basketball right now that he's played since he's been here. The sky's the limit for him.”

        Freeman and the 6-11 Voskuhl have played together for three years, and with the addition of 6-8 sophomore Edmund Saunders, are formidable in the post.

        They decided early on in the second half of the Gonzaga game to get every rebound.

        “I just looked at Kevin, Kevin looked at me,” Voskuhl said.

        The Huskies went on to get 10 second-chance points in the last eight minutes.

        “I think the communication, especially with me and Jake down low, is something that develops over time. We have a natural bond,” Freeman said.

        Freeman said he's put the Big East snub behind him and just tries to prove every game he's one of the top players in the nation.

        “If people don't want to recognize it, they won't,” he said. “Hopefully we'll continue to win and I'll continue to be the X factor that beats you.”


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- UConn's Freeman is the power in the post