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NCAA COLLEGE BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT | AT BIRMINGHAM,
ALA.

Connecticut Wins, Then Tries to Sugarcoat El-Amin Injury

March 18, 2000|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Connecticut is given little chance of repeating as NCAA champion, and the Huskies' prospects of advancing to the Sweet 16 might have dimmed Friday when point guard Khalid El-Amin injured his right ankle in a 75-67 first-round victory over Utah State in the NCAA South Regional.

"My intentions are to play on Sunday and I'm aiming for that, but if I can't go, then I can't go," said El-Amin, who suffered a high ankle sprain on an innocent-looking play late in the game at Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.

"I didn't get hit, I just tried to reverse pivot and dribble back out," he said. "I heard and felt something snap and I called a timeout."

El-Amin returned briefly but was clearly hampered and limped off. X-rays after the game were negative.

The fifth-seeded Huskies face fourth-seeded Tennessee Sunday in the second round.

"That's a tough little guy right there," Husky center Jake Voskuhl said. "I have a lot of confidence in his ability to bounce back."

El-Amin had a similar injury two seasons ago as a freshman and tried to play two days later but was limited to 11 minutes.

His backup is freshman Tony Robertson, but there's no replacing some of El-Amin's qualities.

"Leadership, and the way he plays down the stretch," Coach Jim Calhoun said.

Connecticut (25-9) ended the 19-game winning streak of Big West champion Utah State (28-6), which kept the game reasonably close and made several runs but never led.

Troy Rolle scored 18 points for the Aggies, and Shawn Daniels added 17.

North Carolina 84, Missouri 70--Brendan Haywood, a 7-foot center often criticized for disappearing in crucial games, scored a career-high 28 points and added 15 rebounds as the Tar Heels capitalized on their size advantage in a game Coach Bill Guthridge called North Carolina's best of the season.

"A lot of people didn't expect us to win tonight," Haywood said. "I just knew I didn't want to go out in the first round and I had to go out there and play hard."

Missouri (18-13) stayed with North Carolina (19-13) early with a run of three-pointers. But after making six in the first half, the Tigers were two for 17 in the second, and Clarence Gilbert was only four for 15 in the game, finishing with 16 points. Kareem Rush scored 10.

North Carolina's Ed Cota had 10 assists to reach 1,003 in his career, joining Duke's Bobby Hurley and North Carolina State's Chris Corchiani as the only players in NCAA history to reach 1,000.

Tennessee 63, Louisiana Lafayette 58--The Volunteers (25-6) did little to erase their reputation as a poor tournament team, winning despite shooting 33%, making only six of 30 three-pointers and missing four free throws in the final 15 seconds.

The Ragin' Cajuns (25-9) led by as many as 12 in the first half and trailed by only two with 15 seconds left when Brett Smith was called for a controversial foul on a steal.

Tennessee's Tony Harris missed the free throw, but freshman Ron Slay got the offensive rebound and drew a flagrant-foul call.

"Really, I was just working on my Oscar performance for later this year," said Slay, who flopped to the floor.

Slay missed both free throws, but on the possession awarded because of the flagrant foul, Harris made two free throws for a four-point lead with 10 seconds left.

Ragin' Cajun Coach Jessie Evans complained about the officiating of Dave Libbey, Tim Gabutero and Mark Reischling, who combined to make several controversial calls, call five technicals and award 29 free throws to Tennessee and only eight to Louisiana Lafayette.

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