No. 13 Connecticut 88, West Virginia 75
Dec. 04, 1997
STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut senior reserve Monquencio Hardnett latched on to a leadership role when teammate Richard Hamilton drew his fourth foul and a seat on the bench.
``Everyone looked at each other and I thought, `Someone has to score, and it might as well be me,''' said Hardnett, who scored 10 points in No. 13 Connecticut's 88-75 victory over West Virginia on Wednesday night.
The Mountaineers (5-1) rolled into Gampel Pavilion with their best start in 11 years.
But the up-tempo Huskies (6-1) were led by freshman Khalid El-Amin, who tied a career high with 29 points in the Big East opener for both teams.
``The more teams press us, the easier it will be for us to get 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 fast breaks,'' El-Amin said after the Huskies managed 33 points off their transition game.
Leading by four points at halftime, Connecticut repeatedly broke the Mountaineers' full-court pressure and built a 12-point lead midway through the second half behind El-Amin's shooting.
West Virginia closed within two points with 7:24 left, but the Huskies then went on a 10-0 run.
Kevin Freeman had 20 points and nine rebounds for Connecticut, while Hamilton added 17 points, all in the first half.
``In your first Big East game, you can start at the top or you can start at the bottom. Tonight we start out at the top,'' Freeman said.
UConn shot 59.3 percent (35-of-59) while holding the Mountaineers (5-1) to 38.7 percent shooting.
``Connecticut played an excellent game,'' Mountaineers coach Gale Catlett said. ``They passed the ball well and shot it very well. We were a step behind all night. I don't think our shot selection was what it should have been.''
El-Amin, who had 29 points in UConn's NIT consolation victory over Arizona State last week, was 12-of-18 from the field, including 3-of-6 from 3-point range.
His 29 points were second only to Georgetown's Allen Iverson's 30 in a Big East opener. Iverson did it three years ago in his freshman season.
``Khalid's a special player,'' UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. ``He makes mistakes like any 17- or 18-year-old player will do, but he listens very well and I have a lot of faith in him.''
Coming into the game, West Virginia was averaging 97 points on 64.5 percent shooting. The Huskies held Damian Owens, West Virginia's high scorer, to 12 points, 10 below his average.
Adrian Pledger led West Virginia with 15 points, while Marcus Goree had 14 and Brian Lewin and Jarrod West 10 each.
West Virginia outrebounded the Huskies 26-12 in the first half, but UConn rallied on the boards and the Mountaineers finished with a 41-32 advantage.