How the West was won
UConn shoos Gonzaga for first-ever Final Four berth
Posted: Sunday March 21, 1999 01:29 AM
PHOENIX (AP) -- Finally, barely, Connecticut is in the Final Four.
Gonzaga's NCAA Tournament magic evaporated in the frantic final few minutes Saturday against the Huskies' relentless defense and strength on the offensive boards as the Big East champions pulled out a 67-62 victory.
"I'm not sure we had to work any harder for a victory all year," coach Jim Calhoun said. "We didn't play our great game, but we played our heart game."
Connecticut's All-American, Richard Hamilton, scored 21 points and Khalid El-Amin gained redemption after a horrendous 0-for-12 shooting game by making two free throws with 34.4 seconds remaining.
Kevin Freeman, who had 13 points and 15 rebounds -- 10 off the offensive boards -- iced it with two free throws with 6.2 seconds to play.
"I didn't score a bucket from the field, and we still won," El-Amin said. "That just shows the kind of character we have."
Connecticut (32-2), the No. 1 seed in the West, was a much-publicized 0-3 in regional finals under Calhoun in the 1990s. After it was finished, the players doused their coach with water and the Husky fans chanted "Final Four! Final Four!"
"All those teams before, I loved them, and I love this team," Calhoun said. "I can smile a lot. ... Every one of those kids I love. They never gave me any disappointment. Fate and other good teams and players got in the way and we didn't move on. This is for them."
It was never easy against the scrappy Zags (28-7), who never trailed by more than six points despite an ugly shooting day from Matt Santangelo (1-for-9) and Richie Frahm (2-for-11).
"I want the nation to know the Gonzaga basketball team is a hard-nosed team that always fights," said Quentin Hall, the Zags' Bahamian point guard. "I want to be remembered as a winner and somebody who never gave up."
Gonzaga shot just 35 percent (20-for-57) and was only 5-for-21 on 3-pointers. Connecticut wasn't much better at 37 percent (24-for-65) and was 0-for-9 from long range.
The difference was on the boards, where the Huskies outrebounded the Zags 47-33, including 21 offensive rebounds.
"They are a tremendous athletic and physical team," Gonzaga center Jeremy Eaton said. "They crashed extra hard on us. A couple of times we got our hands on the ball but could not reel them in like we should. When you get outrebounded, it's an easy way to look at why we lost the game."
When Jake Voskuhl scored inside on a pass from Hamilton to put the Huskies ahead 63-59 with just over a minute remaining, the Zags looked finished for good.
But Hall, who had 18 points and eight rebounds, threw in a one-handed 3-pointer with Hamilton all over him to cut the lead to 63-62 with 36.6 seconds to go. Hall fouled El-Amin on the inbounds play, and the beleaguered Connecticut point guard sank two free throws to stretch it back to a three-point lead.
The Bulldogs, just 5-for-21 from 3-point range after shooting 51 percent from behind the line the first three tournament games, turned down a long, game-tying try in favor of going inside. When Santangelo missed one last time on a drive, Freeman grabbed the rebound, Hall fouled him, and the Zags' amazing run was over.
"I probably should have kicked it out," Santangelo said. "I felt if I scored, there was still some time left to get a foul and another possession. Maybe it was a bad decision on my part."
The little Jesuit school from Spokane, Wash., John Stockton's alma mater, had been in the tournament just once before, and never had won a tournament game until its string of triumphs over Minnesota, Stanford and Florida.
"Hopefully we showed people we belong here," Gonzaga coach Dan Monson said. "It's been a tremendous ride for these kids."
Gonzaga won its three tournament games from outside. The Zags stayed close to Connecticut with their inside game, and by keeping the tempo slow most of the afternoon. Eaton had 11 points and three blocked shots, while Casey Calvary added nine points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
El-Amin had a lousy day from the start. He drew his second foul just four minutes into the contest and spent all but the final few seconds of the half on the bench.
With Mike Leasure coming off the bench to score seven first-half points in five minutes, Gonzaga had a 32-31 lead at the break.
The Zags were ahead 41-37, and the mostly pro-Bulldogs crowd at America West Arena was roaring, after Calvary's rebound stuff shot with 16:26 to play. Then Connecticut mounted its only sustained run of the game. Hamilton scored twice to ignite a 14-4 surge. Ricky Moore, who scored 12 points, converted a three-point play with 8:28 to play to give the Huskies their biggest lead, 51-45.
But, just as they did against Stanford and Florida, the Zags of the West Coast Conference came back.
Hall scored six quick points. He hit a 3-pointer, Gonzaga's first after eight second-half misses, then had a three-point play on a drive to the basket, and it was tied at 53 with 6:45 to go.Freeman made two free throws and Saunders scored on a rebound, and the Zags never could catch the Huskies again.
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