Saturday, March 27, 1999

Elated UConn must refocus




BY PETER ABRAHAM
Norwich Bulletin

        ST.PETERSBURG, Fla. — Much has been made about how Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun has changed since the Huskies made the Final Four.

TODAY'S GAMES
  • Duke (36-1) vs. Michigan State (33-4), 5:42 p.m.
  • Ohio State (27-8) vs. Connecticut (32-2), 30 minutes after first
        “Bubbly,” is how one Florida newspaper described him, and aptly so.

        He started smiling when Connecticut beat Gonzaga last Saturday and hasn't stopped. Grandpa Jim is a happy guy with a joke for every occasion.

        But even the new-and-improved Calhoun has his limits. The Final Four may be a big celebration, but there are also two games to be won, starting late this afternoon when the Huskies meet Ohio State.

        “We've had two intense practices since we got here; it has been hard work,” center Jake Voskuhl said. “Coach is going to have us ready, trust me. We're not here on vacation.”

        The Huskies (32-2) have plenty to fear in Ohio State (27-8). The Buckeyes, seeded fourth, emerged from a tough South Regional after beating Auburn and St.John's.

        “I respect anybody who can beat St.John's,” Connecticut All-American Richard Hamilton said. “People look at Ohio State and think we should beat them, but I know they're a good team. If a team gets this far, they have to be pretty good.”

        The Buckeyes aren't an especially difficult team to break down. Guards Michael Redd (19.7) and Scoonie Penn (17.1) have scored nearly 50 percent of the team's points. Stop them, and usually that's enough.

        Penn had 22 points and Redd scored 20 in Ohio State's 77-74 victory against Auburn in the regional final, combining to make 15 of 30 shots.

        “They're going to put a lot of pressure on our defense,” said Connecticut senior Ricky Moore, who will guard Penn.

        “Like the coaches have been telling us, we have to make sure we know where they are at all times. They know they have to score and they're aggressive.”

        Assistant coach Tom Moore, who prepares scouting reports for Calhoun, said the Huskies aren't quite sure how to defend the 6-foot-6, 205-pound Redd because of his ability to score from the perimeter or post up inside.

        Hamilton probably will draw the initial assignment, but if he falters, the Huskies could turn to Kevin Freeman.

        “It's got to be a team thing; we'll help each other,” Freeman said. “It's not one guy against one guy. It's our team against their team.”

        Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien is happy to hear that. His old team, Boston College, rarely had success against Connecti cut. He was 3-20 in the 11 seasons he coached the Eagles, and he lost the last 18 in a row.

        “For a while there, I was a big believer in the law of averages; I have totally forgotten about that at this point,” said O'Brien, who started his coaching career in 1977 as an assistant coach at Connecticut.

        “I think this is two totally drastic different situations. As I've been saying, it's of no consequence to the kids on our team.”

        Said Calhoun: “What happened in the past doesn't matter. This is a different time. I suppose Jimmy is due against me, and I don't like that.”

        Penn, a transfer from Boston College, was with the Eagles for three of those losses.

        “Connecticut is a good team; there's no curse,” he said. “But I'm with a better team now than I was back then.”

        The Buckeyes have two concerns — containing Hamilton and rebounding.

        Hamilton has averaged 23.5 points in the tournament while the Huskies have outrebounded their NCAA opponents by nearly eight a game.

        “I see Freeman and Voskuhl as two of their strengths, and one of our deficiencies has been rebounding,” O'Brien said. “But we've had that problem in other games and managed to win.”

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