From failures to finals
UConn to play for title after series of near misses
Posted: Sunday March 28, 1999 01:13 AM
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Ricky Moore never met a player he couldn't shut down. Khalid El-Amin never met a player who could shut him up.
Along with Richard Hamilton, the third wheel of a three-guard offense that never stops scoring, they have transformed Connecticut from a team that knew only failure in college basketball's final month into one of the sport's Final Two.
Take a bow, Mr. El-Amin ... whoops, you already were.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again, all this team was missing was a player of my stature and leadership," El-Amin said after scoring 18 points in Connecticut's 64-58 victory Saturday over Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament semifinals. "I think I've done a good job. I think I've been a leader."
Good enough that he has led a team that had never previously reached even the Final Four in 20 previous NCAA appearances -- the worst track record of any Division I school -- to Monday's championship game.
"That sounds awfully good," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "Can you say it again please?"
A guard who began running the Huskies' offense from the first time he scrimmaged with them as a high school senior -- and began running his mouth about the same time -- was nearly left speechless after going 0-for-12 as Connecticut escaped the West Regional final with a 67-62 victory over Gonzaga.
It took him only three possessions to get back on his game Saturday, hitting a baseline jumper that made it 5-2 and set the tone for an 8-of-15, six-assist day.
On the other end of the court, Moore was disrupting and distracting Ohio State scoring star Scoonie Penn, who was averaging 17.5 points in the NCAA Tournament but was limited to 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting.
Penn was so off his game that he even forgot his own number. He couldn't find his No. 12, so was forced to wear a generic No. 35 with no name on the back.
Here's a suggestion: Maybe Moore, who calls himself the best defensive player in America, stole his number. He certainly stole his game.
"Yeah, I think I did that, but I certainly had a lot of help," said Moore, whose scoring average has dropped from 12 points per game two years ago to six points since he began concentrating on defense. "I stayed aggressive on defense. I made him work for everything. That's my game, to wreak havoc."
Moore said he wasn't bragging when he agreed he is premier scorer-stopper in the country. These numbers don't lie: He held Gonzaga star Matt Santangelo to 1-of-9 shooting and two points, Michigan State's Mateen Cleaves to six points on Dec. 5 and Johnny Hemsley of Miami to no second-half points.
"I work hard. Just look at the stats," Moore said.
Or look at his shoes. He wore a new pair of gold shoes -- "They're 14 karat," he said smiling -- but ruptured the sole on his right shoe while chasing Penn in the first half.
"I ran myself out my shoes," More said. "But I'll get them fixed before Monday."
Nothing needs fixing with Connecticut's game, not now, not with the biggest game in history of the school -- and a basketball-crazed state -- coming up Monday."We seized the moment," Calhoun said. "Now we've got to do it again."
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