Originally created 03/19/00

El-Amin hopes to play Sunday



BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Khalid El-Amin hobbled back into the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center on Saturday, Connecticut's hope of repeating as national champions teetering on his sprained right ankle.

Injured in a win the previous night, the star point guard limped onto the court as the Huskies prepared for Sunday's second-round game against Tennessee in the NCAA South Regional.

"My expectation is to play," El-Amin said. "It feel better than when I first hurt it. It's a little bit swollen. Hopefully, I'll be all right."

El-Amin wore a shower shoe, instead of a sneaker, as he entered the arena. The Huskies held a 90-minute workout, and he spent his time by himself.

"He did not practice," coach Jim Calhoun said. "He shot a few jumpers on the side. He's able to run in a straight line, but he can't cut.

"We'll know more after tomorrow's shootaround in the morning."

In Sunday's other game, top-seeded Stanford takes on North Carolina. The winners advance to Thursday night's regional semifinals in Austin, Texas.

El-Amin hurt himself during a drive -- he was not hit on the play -- with 3:57 left in Friday night's 75-67 win over Utah State. He returned a minute later with the ankle taped, but was forced to leave moments later.

"If Khalid cannot play, the game plan will be different," Calhoun said shortly after the victory. "The plan is going to be predicated on Khalid."

X-rays were negative, and he spent the night getting ice and ultrasound treatment.

"It'll give him discomfort for several weeks," team Dr. Jeffrey Anderson said. "It's definitely going to hurt him, but it's unlikely to harm him.

"If things go well and we're fortunate enough to move on to Austin, he'll still feel it."

Tennessee coach Jerry Green said he hoped El-Amin would play.

"We want to be beat the best team they can put out there," he said. "We want him healthy."

El-Amin scored 14 points and controlled the tempo as fifth-seeded Connecticut (25-9) ended Utah State's 19-game winning streak. Even if he's ready, El-Amin will face a tough challenge against fourth-seeded Tennessee (25-6) in speedy guard Tony Harris.

Harris shot only 4-for-14 in Friday's 63-58 win over Louisiana-Lafayette, though he made two clinching free throws with 10.8 seconds to play.

"It's going to be a 5-on-5 game, not a 1-on-1 thing," El-Amin said.

Though Tennessee is technically the favorite because of its higher seeding, the Volunteers have never won two games in a single NCAA tournament. The Huskies, meanwhile, have reached the round of 16 in seven of the last 10 years.

"We're the five and they're the four," Huskies co-captain Kevin Freeman said. "People are expecting them to take us out of the tournament."

Not everybody, maybe.

"Everyone expects us to loss to Connecticut because they are the defending national champions," Tennessee forward C.J. Black said. "If we win, I guess a lot things would change in people's brackets."

Eighth-seeded North Carolina (19-13) needs one more victory to extend its streak of 28 straight 20-win seasons.

Brendan Haywood led the Tar Heels over Missouri 84-70 on Friday night with a career-high 28 points and 15 rebounds. The 7-foot center figures to have a more difficult time with Stanford's big front line.

"Against Missouri, it was `pound it, pound it, pound it' because we knew we had the height advantage," he said. "It'll be a little different with Stanford."

Mark Madsen had 14 points and 13 rebounds and freshman shooter Casey Jacobsen scored 18 points in an 84-65 romp over South Carolina State in the opening round.

At 6-foot-10, Jarron Collins might draw the job at the outset of shutting down Haywood. Early last season, Haywood had only seven points in the Tar Heels' 57-49 win over Stanford.

"For all of us post defenders, our job is keep him away from the basket, keep him out of his prime real estate," Collins said.