Sunday, March 28, 1999

Hamilton stars at crucial times

Florida Today

        ST.PETERSBURG, Fla. — Big games, they say, are for big players. That being the case, is it any surprise Connecticut guard-forward Richard Hamilton stepped up big for the Huskies on Saturday?

        The junior had contemplated leaving school last year for the NBA but decided to come back. The 75-64 loss to North Carolina in the East Regional finals was part of the motivation.

        In Saturday's 64-58 win over Ohio State, which lifted the Huskies into Monday night's national championship game, Hamilton scored a game-high 24 points.

        Now, not only will Connecticut remember the 1998-99 season for its first trip to the Final Four but for its first journey to a national championship game.

        “I think one of the big factors was Coach (Jim Calhoun) always told me we'd won a Big East championship but we'd never won a national championship,” Hamilton said. “I didn't want to end my season on a loss. I had a bad feeling after losing to North Carolina and I wanted to come back and play.”

        And play he did. Time after time, especially in the first half, Hamilton saved Connecticut with huge baskets.

        “I think the guys did a great job of getting me the ball in open places and I just took advantage of those opportunities,” he said.

        Hamilton averaged 23.5 points in Connecticut's first four NCAA Tournament games — almost twice as many as anyone else on the team.

        He was a force in the Final Four semifinals as well, scoring 16 points in the first half alone.

        Scoonie Penn's three-pointer had given Ohio State a 20-18 lead with 10 minutes left in the half when Hamilton got hot to lead an 11-3 Connecticut run.

        Hamilton sandwiched three-point shots around a conventional three-point play by Kevin Freeman to make it a 26-20 game. After a jumper by Khalid El-Amin, Hamilton hit a jumper and scored off a rebound to make it 32-23.

        Of Connecticut's first 32 points, Hamilton had 14.

        The Buckeyes took a 33-32 lead just before the half, but once again, Hamilton answered with a big basket to put the Huskies back in front.

        Told he had gone over 2,000 career points — needing just 15 more going into the game — Hamilton took the accomplishment in stride. Joked El-Amin: “Two thousand points? That's a lot of shots.”

        “I never scored 2,000 points in high school or anything like that, so it's a great accomplishment,” Hamilton said. “But we've got another game in front of us right now to worry about.”

        In the second half, Hamilton scored five points in the first 4:21 to help Connecticut take a 45-37 lead. The Huskies never trailed again.

        Ohio State did manage to get to within 51-45. Again, Hamilton had the big play — getting a layup to get the Huskies rolling again.

        Big player, big game, big plays.


Ohio State Stories
Face it: UConn was just better
- Hamilton stars at crucial times