UConn puts back upset bid by Wash. Hamilton's fadeaway on rebound beats buzzer for 75-74 win

March 20, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Richard Hamilton rescued No. 2 seed Connecticut from the brink of elimination last night with a last-second put-back that earned a dramatic 75-74 victory over No. 11 Washington in an NCAA men's basketball tournament East Regional semifinal at a half-empty Greensboro Coliseum.

The Big East Conference champion (32-4) will seek the school's first Final Four berth in tomorrow's 6 p.m. East final against No. 1 North Carolina.

The fans who left the coliseum missed a gritty comeback by Washington and an incredible closing sequence that decided the game.

Washington (20-10) had gained its first lead in the game at 74-73 with 33.2 seconds left when Donald Watts hit a three-point shot from the left wing.

After taking a timeout with 29.1 seconds, Connecticut point guard Khalid El-Amin tried to run off a pick by Jake Voskuhl but shoveled a pass to the 6-foot-11 center instead.

Voskuhl missed a jumper in the lane, Hamilton missed a follow shot, and then, amazingly, the ball wound up back in Hamilton's hands for the last shot, from eight feet away.

"The ball just came to me," he said. "I gathered myself, let the ball go, and it went in."

Said El-Amin: "I looked at the clock and it said 1.8 seconds. I said, 'Shoot it' and then I just ran straight to him."

Hamilton was smothered under a pile of exuberant Huskies after what was a trying day for all of them.

Hamilton, who missed the team's practice on Thursday with a bad cold, scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half. Down the stretch, he hit every big shot that UConn made.

He scored Connecticut's last six points and nine of its final 11.

Curiously, he had talked to El-Amin about hitting a buzzer-beater after watching West Virginia upset Cincinnati with a last-second shot.

"I told him I never hit a buzzer-beater in my life," Hamilton said.

"We will not copyright that, either," joked Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun.

"In a year of buzzer-beaters, I guess we wanted to be included."

Connecticut was fortunate to survive against a surprisingly stubborn Washington team that finished fourth in the Pacific-10 Conference. Connecticut held as much as a nine-point lead, at 64-55, in the second half, but could never put Washington away.

"They played a courageous basketball game, and Rip [Hamilton] came up with an incredible shot," Calhoun said.

Connecticut tried to use its speed and depth to wear down Washington in general and 7-0 center Todd MacCulloch in particular.

But MacCulloch scored 18 points, hitting seven of 12 shots, and took 10 rebounds to keep Washington close. Calhoun's strategy against MacCulloch was to defend him by alternating three different post players -- Voskuhl and backups Souleymane Wane and Antric Klaiber.

Still, Washington scored 20 points in the paint in the first half while the three UConn players collected six fouls.

"My theory is, we were out of gas," Calhoun said of Connecticut's inconsistent play. "I have no idea why."

In the end, Calhoun wanted to go for the last shot rather than rush an early shot. He said he was concerned about having to defend a last shot by Washington with his weary crew.

"Five different guys must have touched the ball down the stretch," he said. "We don't want the season to end."

El-Amin, who had 19 points, noticed that a large portion of the pro-Carolina crowd was not around for the finish.

"That's on them," he said. "They chose to leave. I'm pretty sure that was the Carolina fans."

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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