Huskies Had Faith in
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 30, 1999; Page D6
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., March 29 Who knew? Who among even the most devoted college basketball fans could have imagined Connecticut would upset Duke tonight and win the national championship with the likes of Souleymane Wane and Albert Mouring and, most important, Ricky Moore excelling on offense?
"We knew we were the better team," said Moore, whose 13 points were twice his season's average and whose trademark defense on Duke star guard Trajan Langdon with just over five seconds left was the ultimate play in the Huskies' 77-74 victory. "And there were some things in the paper I didn't like. I said you hadn't seen the real Ricky Moore."
The real Ricky Moore hit 6 of 10 shots and scored all his points in the first half, when the Huskies successfully attacked a Duke defense that had been overwhelming nearly the entire season.
Also, backup center Wane hit both of his field goal tries and helped knock national player of the year Elton Brand out of his comfort zone during eight minutes on the court. In 17 minutes in relief of foul-plagued Khalid El-Amin, Mouring was 3 for 4 from the field and played decent defense.
All-American Richard Hamilton performed his usual team-leading magic, scoring 27 points. But this?
"We talked about all of us having to step up," said the 6-foot-11 Wane. "We know everybody had to do the little things. Like get loose balls. Like box out and get rebounds [the Huskies had 11 more than the Blue Devils]. I think we out-toughed them."
Wane's shining moment came about midway through the first half, when he grabbed the ball from Brand after Brand had gotten a defensive rebound. Almost immediately, Wane pivoted and flipped a little hook over Brand.
The early surprise was Moore's ability to free himself for drives and jumpers. The 6-2 senior was used more as a playmaker because El-Amin played just 22 minutes because of foul trouble.
Late in the first half, however, Moore could not stop Langdon during two possessions in which Langdon scored seven points. Both were tough three-point shots and Langdon hit the foul shot that made the last effort a four-point play after Moore hit him. Also, Moore had two turnovers late in the first half.
On Duke's next-to-last possession, with U-Conn. ahead by a point, the game came down to Moore's being able to contain Langdon. It was one of the country's top defensive players going chest-to-chest with one of the country's best shooters.
"I knew it was my time to shine," Moore said. "I let him get the ball. I wanted to go at him."
Langdon tried to spin past Moore on the left side of the free throw lane. In the air, he seemed to want to pass the ball. But nobody was open and he was called for traveling with 5.4 seconds left. Duke immediately fouled El-Amin, and he made the two foul shots that gave U-Conn. a three-point margin.
Once more, Langdon had the ball in his hands. This time, he lost it just beyond mid-court, and another U-Conn. backup, Rashamel Jones, controlled it as the buzzer sounded.
Power forward Kevin Freeman and backup inside player Edmund Saunders quickly left the floor and danced among the jubilant Connecticut fans in the stands. Coach Jim Calhoun hugged El-Amin and then lifted Hamilton (who also had three assists) off the floor.
As the nets were about to be cut, Hamilton grabbed Freeman and, as though the accomplishment had just hit him, shouted: "We ... just ... won ... the ... national ... championship."
"Crazy," said starting center Jake Voskuhl, who also helped bump Brand while blocking two shots and assisting on two baskets.
The final strands of net were saved for Calhoun, who has endured much criticism for not making the Final Four until this season. In 27 years as a college coach, the last 13 at U-Conn., he has won 554 games and has been in 13 NCAA tournaments, 7 rounds of 16 and 4 rounds of 8.
"Duke has broken our hearts a couple of times," he had said, referring to the Blue Devils beating the Huskies in the round of eight in 1990 and in the round of 16 a year later. "Maybe it's our turn to do some heart-breaking."
When that actually happened, Calhoun snipped the last strand, stepped back on the ladder a wee bit and cut one tiny sliver. He took that small strand and placed it back in one of the tiny eyelets on the bottom of the basket. That was in memory of a former U-Conn. manager, Joe McGinn, who died less than a month ago, at age 26, from longtime kidney problems.
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