Saturday, March 27, 1999

OSU game will pivot in the pivot

Johnson vs. Voskuhl the key matchup

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Jim O'Brien is 3-20 against Jim Calhoun as a coach. No wonder Calhoun was thrilled to see O'Brien.

        “Jim, it's really nice to see you,” Calhoun said to his longtime friend and former Big East rival.

  • Duke (36-1) vs. Michigan State (33-4), 5:42 p.m.
  • Ohio State (27-8) vs. Connecticut (32-2), 30 minutes after first
        In 11 years at Boston College, O'Brien did some nice things: Three NCAA tournament showings, four NIT appearances, 168 wins. But Calhoun owned him.

        Today at 5:42 p.m., O'Brien has a chance to make amends. His Ohio State team (27-8) plays the 32-2 Huskies in the first national semifinal at Tropicana Field.

        What's past is past, though. That was the theme of the day Friday, whether it was O'Brien's record against Calhoun or UConn point guard Khalid El-Amin's 0-for-12 shooting in the West region final.

        “The only one who has had to sit through all of (the losses) is me,” O'Brien said. The Buckeyes “know nothing about Connecticut except what we're telling them.”

        Calhoun's take? “When Jimmy had good teams, we had very good teams, great teams. The relevancy of it is non-existent.”

        Here is what's relevant about Ohio State's first Final Four appearance in 31 years: If center Ken Johnson can have the kind of game he had against St. John's last Saturday (12 points, seven blocks), the Buckeyes are a decent bet to be playing Monday night.

        As Calhoun said, “The (guards) might equalize each

        other. It might come down to whose frontcourt is the best. The (Jake) Voskuhl-Johnson matchup may be the single most important matchup of the game.”

        The thinking is that if Connecticut can handle OSU's excellent backcourt of point guard Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd, the Huskies have the edge up front, especially with the 6-foot-11 Voskuhl and All-American Richard Hamilton.

        Penn and Redd were marvelous last weekend. Penn dictated tempo in both Buckeyes wins, over Auburn and St. John's. Redd had 17 first-half points against the Red Storm. But the Huskies answer with El-Amin and defensive ace Ricky Moore. Calhoun says of Moore, “In 27 years coaching, I've never had anybody, I mean anybody, cut the head off the dragon, stop the jumpshooter” the way Moore does. “He's worth 20 points at least.”

        Ironically, the Buckeyes beat St.John's even as they were being outrebounded 45-28. They beat Auburn despite losing the board war 41-37. The difference was guard play, as it usually is in the NCAA ournament.

        If Redd and Penn are better, the Buckeyes will take their chances up front.

        O'Brien's message to his team this week has been, “Don't settle.” Don't be content with going from eight wins a year ago to the Final Four. “We've achieved more than anyone though we would. Is this what we want, or do we want more?”

        They'd settle for one more today.