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UConn do it

Brand name is Huskies' generic worry in title game

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Posted: Sunday March 28, 1999 10:39 PM

  Connecticut's Jake Voskuhl did not pull down an easy assignment in having to guard Duke big man Elton Brand. AP

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Finally, they've got the team they've wanted in the game they've wanted and the matchup ... well, the matchup no player would want.

Especially not Jake Voskuhl.

On a Connecticut team dominated by Richard Hamilton's scoring, Ricky Moore's defensive brilliance and Khalid El-Amin's personality, Voskuhl often is virtually ignored -- if that's possible for a 6-foot-11 man with sideburns almost to his knees.

But there's no disguising his importance in Monday night's NCAA championship game against Duke, one that may be decided by Voskuhl's ability -- or lack thereof -- to contain and control player of the year Elton Brand.

With a wingspan that seems to extend across Tampa Bay, and a scoring touch as soft as a shooting guard, the 6-9 Brand may be the closest thing to an indefensible player in college basketball. But if they don't defend Brand, the Huskies (33-2) won't win the national championship they feel has already been awarded to the Blue Devils (37-1).

"You can't say you're going to stop him, you just hope he doesn't go off on you," Voskuhl said.

Or, like Brand did Saturday by taking out Michigan State with 13 rebounds and eight points in just the first half.

Voskuhl, an infrequent scorer who is depended on mostly to block shots and rebound, will be UConn's tentative first line of defense against Brand. The last line will be ...

Get back to coach Jim Calhoun at about 9:15 p.m. or so Monday about that. He said he knows but hasn't even told his players yet.

"Duke is not a very, very difficult team to prepare for," Calhoun said Sunday before the team's practice. "They're just a difficult team to play."

UConn will try to slow Brand by mixing up double teams, with 6-7 Kevin Freeman often sliding over to help Voskuhl deny Brand the ball and force him to take off-balance shots.

"When I see a man-to-man matchup, my eyes light up," Brand said. "I think I can either score or get fouled or find someone open. So maybe to double team me would be the best situation."

The Huskies also must make quick, in-the-flow rotation switches to prevent Duke's raft of scorers from beating them with 3s as they double down on Brand.

"I've seen him manhandle people," said Freeman, who first played against Brand in high school. "He's 6-8, but when he extends those long arms it's hard to defend him. The key is to try to make him take tough shots."

How to defend Brand wasn't the only tough decision Calhoun and his staff made during a lengthy game-planning session following UConn's 64-58 victory Saturday over Ohio State.

Does Ricky Moore, the self-described best defensive player in the country, try to take out Duke point guard and former high school teammate William Avery as he did against Ohio State's befuddled Scoonie Penn? Or does he match up against Trajan Langdon, a dangerous streak shooter?

And if Moore is occupied with Avery, can the extremely confident Khalid El-Amin, who said Sunday he feels he was destined to play in this game, do a job on Langdon?

And then there's 6-6 freshman super sub Corey Maggette, who doesn't start for Duke but might be an NBA lottery pick if declares for the draft.

"I think you have to pick your poison and pick the idea of what you feel is going to hurt you less," Calhoun said. "With Elton, we really feel that he becomes the center in all senses. When he went off with his fourth foul [Saturday], it was a different basketball game."

To keep Voskuhl out of foul trouble, Calhoun will substitute frequently with 6-11 Souleymane Wane and 6-8 Edmund Saunders, a physical forward who averages 17.8 minutes a game to Voskuhl's 21.3.

"He comes in with this attitude," Voskuhl said of Saunders. "The thing about him is he's not going to back down against anybody."

Not even Duke.

"You know, we've waited on this all season long," Moore said. "We just wanted a chance to play them. We've heard all year, 'They can't be beat, they can't be beat,' but I think they can if we play a great game."

 
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