STORRS, Conn. (AP) -Connecticut's Jeff Adrien took it personally when he began hearing that his team couldn't win the big one.
The doubters' worries grew louder after the Huskies' six-overtime loss to Syracuse in the Big East Tournament, UConn's fifth consecutive postseason defeat.
``It hurt a lot,'' said Adrien, who played in all five of those losses. ``It made me work harder. We had to fight through adversity to get to where we're at.''
After four wins in the NCAA tournament, Adrien said the Huskies will take that same emotion with them this weekend to Detroit, where Connecticut will play in the program's third Final Four, hoping to earn UConn's third national championship.
me get up to that wall one day.''
While point guard A.J. Price and 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet have gotten most of the national spotlight during UConn's run, Adrien has been the team's steady leader - averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds in the first four rounds.
The 6-7 forward has 47 career double-doubles and has scored 1,590 points and grabbed 1,119 rebounds at Connecticut, becoming only the fifth player in school history to pass the 1,000 mark in both categories.
``I've said it before, he's our rock,'' UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. ``There are not many players in the country who are going to finish their career with over 1,500 points and over 1,000 rebounds.''
Adrien was thrust into a leadership role after his freshman season, when UConn had five players drafted into the NBA from a 30-4 team that was upset in the regional finals by George Mason. His sophomore year, he was the only player with significant game experience on the team.
``I don't think I was ready (to lead), but I knew I had to do it,'' Adrien said. I just had to stay focused and remember the stuff I had learned from the guys before.''
The Huskies went 17-14 that season, lost in the first round of the Big East tournament and didn't get a postseason bid. Last season, the Huskies lost to San Diego in the NCAA tournament's first round.
Again, Adrien took it personally.
eing on top. I dreamed about helping make them No. 1 again after my freshman year. To get back to the top wasn't easy. But it was a goal of mine and of this team to get back up to be one of the elite teams in the country.''
Along the way, Adrien mentored Connecticut's other big men, including Thabeet, who credits his teammate with instilling in him a toughness he didn't have before joining UConn.
``I watched how hard he works; going against him, it was tough,'' Thabeet said. ``He's so tough, and he works so hard. He helped me a lot growing as a player and growing as a person.''
Calhoun said Adrien compares favorably to UConn forward Kevin Freeman, who helped lead the Huskies to their first championship in 1999.
Although Freeman never made it in the NBA, Calhoun said he thinks Adrien has a chance.
``In Jeff's case, I think he could become that kind of tough guy to play against with another 10 pounds of muscle, though I don't know where it's going to go,'' Calhoun said. ``But my point being simply is those guys are tough matchups for people. ... Both of them would go to war for you, get big rebounds and make big plays for you.''
Tough and full of heart.
On senior night, for example, he asked his mom to bring their kitties from home in Brookline, Mass. so he could see them.
``The big cat is named Tish; she just had four babies,'' he said. ``They're all black and white, actually two of them are just black. They are really little. I really wanted to see them.''
The next sweetest thing to hold? The national championship trophy.

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