Postseason play has been payback time for Connecticut's Kevin Freeman.
Snubbed when it came time to pick the Big East's first, second or third all-conference teams, the power forward's rebounding and clutch shooting have helped carry the Huskies (32-2) to their first Final Four.
Freeman had 13 points and a career-high 15 rebounds 10 off the offensive boards in UConn's 67-62 win against Gonzaga to advance to St. Petersburg, Fla. In the final minutes, he hit two free throws to give UConn the lead for good at 57-55 and then iced the game with two more from the line with 6.2 seconds left.
With the game on the line, there were no butterflies. Just net.
"Hopefully I can have that same confidence and God will bless me with the same strokes to allow the ball to go in," Freeman said Monday. "It's just a matter of focus."
The Huskies, winners of the West Regional, take on Ohio State on Saturday. The Buckeyes (27-8) advanced to the Final Four with a 77-74 South Regional final win against St. John's.
Three weeks after the conference snub, the accolades are mounting. Freeman was named to the West Regional All-Tournament team. And his performance in the conference tournament earlier this month earned him Most Outstanding Player honors.
His award-winning efforts aren't anything out of the ordinary for the 6-foot-7 junior, say his teammates and coach.
"He has the incredible ability to will himself to do things," said coach Jim Calhoun. "He's done it in a humble sort of way."
Calhoun said he marveled at Freeman's 10 offensive boards against the Bulldogs.
"It was absolutely phenomenal," Calhoun said. "Coaches just don't marvel when you've had the great fortune to have some great players play for you."
The team's leading rebounder, the muscular Freeman is averaging 7.3 boards a game. With 12.6 points a game, he's the third top scorer behind the higher profile tandem of All-American Richard Hamilton and flashy point guard Khalid El-Amin.
When they've gone cold at times El-Amin was 0-for-12 against Gonzaga the Huskies look inside to Freemen and get results.
"Kevin brings toughness. He brings it consistently," said center Jake Voskuhl. "He's playing the best basketball right now that he's played since he's been here. The sky's the limit for him."
Freeman and the 6-11 Voskuhl have played together for three years, and with the addition of 6-8 sophomore Edmund Saunders, are formidable in the post. The three combine for nearly 19 boards a game and can read each other like a road map.
They decided early on in the second half of the Gonzaga game to get every rebound.
"I just looked at Kevin, Kevin looked at me," said Voskuhl.
The Huskies went on to get 10 second-chance points in the last eight minutes.
"I think the communication, especially with me and Jake down low, is something tat develops over time. We have a natural bond," said Freeman.
Freeman said he's put the Big East snub behind him and just tries to prove every game he's one of the top players in the nation.
"If people don't want to recognize it they won't," he said. "Hopefully we'll continue to win and I'll continue to be the X factor that beats you."
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