January 12, 1999
By DONNA TOMMELLEO
Associated Press Writer
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – In 10 games this season, Richard Hamilton has led No. 1 Connecticut in scoring. Yet the prolific junior said there’s still one aspect of his play that needs improvement.
“Defense – no one expects me to play defense,” he said Tuesday after scoring 29 points in a 101-70 victory over Notre Dame. “That’s the one thing I try to strive to do, play a lot of defense.”
But sticking with what he does best has kept the Huskies atop the polls for seven straight weeks. UConn (14-0, 6-0 Big East) is one of only three unbeaten major college teams.
Hamilton finished 7-of-16 from the field and was 14-of-15 from the foul line. He hit 4-of-4 free throws in the final 2.7 seconds of the first half after he was fouled and the Irish bench was charged with a technical.
“You don’t get opportunities like that and I knew we had to take advantage of it,” he said. “The first half, there was a guy always on me and I said to myself, I’m probably going to get to the foul line a lot.”‘
UConn closed out those final few seconds with Hamilton’s four points and a leaning shot by Khalid El-Amin for a 53-33 lead at the break.
Notre Dame’s focus on Hamilton freed up some opportunities for El-Amin and Kevin Freeman. El-Amin finished with 22 points and Freeman had 15.
Notre Dame (9-8, 3-3) held a 4-2 lead in the opening minutes before Hamilton led a 7-2 run as the Huskies began to run away.
“A real good team like Connecticut doesn’t let you get back in the game,” Irish coach John MacLeod said.
UConn also shut down Notre Dame’s leading scorer, Troy Murphy.
Murphy, a freshman who also leads the Irish in rebounds, entered the game averaging 18.6 points and 9.2 boards. He had 11 points before fouling out with 5:22 remaining.
“UConn is a very physical team and have tough big guys as well as tough guards,” said Murphy. “I have to run cuts so I can get shots and I haven’t been doing that in the last couple games … and that’s been hurting the team.”
UConn coach Jim Calhoun said his squad is growing wiser by the game.
“It was mature performance by us more than an outstanding performance,” Calhoun said. “Bottom line, (Notre Dame) got caught by an experienced team that is showing some maturity.”
Harold Swanagan scored 15 points for the Irish (9-8, 3-3).
UConn starting center Jake Voskuhl picked up two fouls in the first five minutes of the game and sat out the rest of the half. He played just 13 minutes, finishing with five points and three rebounds.
The Huskies managed to outrebound Notre Dame, 40-32, led by Freeman’s eight. It was the second time this season Notre Dame faced the nation’s top-ranked team. The Irish lost 111-82 to Duke in the opening game of the Great Alaska Shootout in November.
The last time Notre Dame beat a top-ranked team was 13 years ago at home with a 60-58 win over North Carolina.