March 19, 1998
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - Richard Hamilton had never made a buzzer-beater in his life, let alone in the NCAA tournament. Connecticut now has two this decade to get to the final eight.
Hamilton's rebound jumper in the lane at the buzzer, Connecticut's third shot in the final eight seconds, gave the second-seeded Huskies a 75-74 victory over Washington in the East Regional semifinals.
Connecticut (32-4) will play top-seeded and top-ranked North Carolina, which beat fourth-seeded Michigan State 73-58, in Saturday's regional final with a berth in the Final Four at stake.
It was in 1990 that Connecticut won in the round of 16 when Tate George took a length-of-the-court pass from Scott Burrell and hit a jumper at the buzzer to beat Clemson. The Huskies would lose to Duke two days later in overtime on a last-second shot by Christian Laettner.
"I was talking to Kev (teammate Kevin Freeman) today as we watched West Virginia hit the buzzer shot, that I had never made one of those in my life," Hamilton said. "Right after I hit it he came running at me and said, `We were just talking about that."'
Now the whole country will be talking about another of this tournament's wild endings.
"It has been a season of buzzer-beaters and you can add our name to the list," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "I guess we wanted to be included in everything."
Washington (20-10), the 11th seed which had one of the tournament's more surprising runs, took its first lead at 74-73 with 33 seconds left on a 3-pointer by Donald Watts.
Connecticut called a timeout with 29 seconds remaining.
"When you go to the sidelines at a timeout you never think you're going to lose," Watts said. "I thought I put us over the top but they didn't give up and they won."
Freshman point guard Khalid El-Amin dribbled the ball near midcourt until there were 10 seconds left. He drove toward the basket and passed the ball to center Jake Voskuhl, whose shot bounced off the rim. Hamilton got the rebound and shot, again with the ball coming back off the rim.
After it was tipped from the other side, Hamilton grabbed the loose ball and hit a fadeaway jumper over 7-foot Patrick Femerling, the ball falling through the basket as the buzzer sounded.
"The ball just came to me and I said, `Make sure I gather myself before I let his one go,"' Hamilton said. "I gathered myself, let the ball go and it went in."
Watts couldn't believe the ball stayed alive as long as it did.
"It seemed all 10 guys got a hand on it," he said. "Then the worst thing that could have happened, happened."
The Connecticut players all fell to the floor in a huge pile as the Huskies advanced to the regional finals for the third time in six round of 16 appearances in the '90s.
"We came to play Carolina," Calhoun said. "The only way to get to the Final Four is to go through Carolina."
Hamilton, the Big East player of the year as a sophomore, finished with 22 points, 18 in the second half, while El-Amin had 19 on 7-for-20 shooting.
"We looked like most teams look when they play us," Calhoun said. "My theory was we were out of gas. I have no idea why because we had five or six days of rest, but we were out of gas. We had no energy."
Watts led Washington, which beat sixth-seeded Xavier and 14th-seeded Richmond to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 1984, with 22 points, while 7-footer Todd MacCulloch had 18 and Deon Luton added 17.
"This team has proven a lot this year and especially in the last week and a half," Washington coach Bob Bender said. "Maybe we did even more tonight with what we did through 40 minutes.
"It was a classic game, the underdog and the favorite and it came down to a basket."
Connecticut seemed to be in control in the matchup of teams named Huskies, leading 64-55 with 10:16 to play on a three-point play by Souleymane Wane. But Washington, the fourth-place team from the Pac-10 and the first of the four teams from that conference to lose in this tournament, went on an 8-0 run to get within 64-63 with 7:28 left.
Washington's defense was impressive during the run as Connecticut missed five shots and committed three turnovers.
Hamilton hit a 3-pointer and Voskuhl added two free throws to get Connecticut's lead back to six, but Washington came back again, this time with a 5-0 run to make it 69-68 with 2:51 to play.
MacCulloch made one of two free throws with 1:29 left to tie it 71-71 and Hamilton's rebound basket gave Connecticut a 73-71 lead with 59 seconds to play.
The win was the 11th straight for Connecticut, the regular-season and tournament champions of the Big East, while Washington had a five-game winning streak snapped.
Connecticut has never been to the Final Four, while Washington was trying to get there for the second time and first in 35 years.