Miss. State freezes out UConn in Southeast, 60-55 'Dogs' guards lead upset of top-seeded Huskies

March 23, 1996|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

LEXINGTON, Ky. - A year after Mississippi State reached the Sweet 16 for the first time, the Bulldogs are still polishing their national image.

Following the lead of their brilliant guards, the fifth-seeded Bulldogs eliminated top-seeded Connecticut, 60-55, in a Southeast Regional semifinal at Rupp Arena last night.

"We're in the Elite Eight," said Mississippi State's Darryl Wilson. "Who would ever have thought we'd be in the Elite Eight?"

The Bulldogs made it because Wilson and Marcus Bullard decisively won their matchup with UConn's more-heralded backcourt of Ray Allen and Doron Sheffer.

State's guards did it all, from handling the Huskies' press to derailing the UConn running game to generating a significant part of the offense.

Wilson threw in a season-high seven three-pointers and scored 27 points to provide the offensive spark, while Bullard hounded Allen into a horrible 9-for-25 shooting night.

"A lot was said about the guard matchup," Mississippi State coach Richard Williams said, "and my guards are pretty good, too."

Wilson hit five straight three-pointers in a torrid start, pushing the Bulldogs (25-7) out to a 16-point lead in the first half.

"We ran a lot of sets to get him shots," Williams said. "Everybody knows when he's feeling it like that, we want to get him the ball."

The Bulldogs, who stunned Kentucky two weeks ago in the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game, advance to the Southeast final tomorrow.

The Huskies (32-3) trimmed a 15-point second-half deficit to three (58-55) with 38 seconds to play.

A 10-second violation against Mississippi State gave Connecticut the ball with 25 seconds left. But after a timeout, the Huskies lost their chance to finish the comeback when Allen (22 points) bricked a three-point shot over Russell Walters.

"We knew they were going to take a three-point shot," Wilson said. "We were hoping no one would get a good look."

It was the third straight year the Huskies reached the Sweet 16, but they have yet to make the Final Four.

Against State's tenacious man-to-man defense, UConn shot only percent. And even though the Huskies had a big advantage on the boards (45-35) with 23 offensive rebounds, they were unable to capitalize.

"There were a couple of keys," Williams said. "One, we wanted to stop their transition game and we did that by getting back on defense. Another thing, we wanted to keep them off the offensive boards. They got quite a few, but not a lot led to points."

UConn trailed by 14 points with seven minutes to play when it finally made its move. Allen started the comeback with a three-pointer to get the Huskies within 54-43.

When 7-foot Travis Knight hit a putback after an Allen miss, their deficit was under 10 points (54-45) for the first time since midway through the first half.

Kirk King hit a follow-shot at the five-minute mark to make it an eight-point deficit at 55-47. Another three-pointer by Allen cut the State lead to 55-50.

It was a five-point game (57-52) into the final minute. Mississippi State's Dontae Jones hit one of two free throws after Whit Hughes blew a layup, and Sheffer answered with a trey to cut the State lead to 58-55.

The Bulldogs stunned the Huskies for a 37-25 halftime lead. Mississippi State opened with a 10-2 run and never trailed in the first half, thanks to five straight three-pointers by Wilson.

Wilson's hot spot was at the top of the circle. His first miss came 16 minutes into the game. He scored 17 of the team's first 37 points.

The 6-1 senior guard outdueled Allen in the early going. Allen scored 10 of the Huskies' first 15 points, but couldn't keep pace with the torrid Wilson.

When the Bulldogs weren't bombing from outside, they hammered the Huskies inside. Jones had three emphatic dunks and 10 points in the first half, often pointing to the crowd for emphasis after each basket.

Mississippi State was able to control the pace when Connecticut hit just 29.4 percent (10 of 34 shots). Allen had to work for his 14 points in the half, taking 11 shots. The Huskies were often impatient in running their offense.

The Bulldogs went inside for their last three baskets of the half, opening a 16-point lead. All three goals were by Erick Dampier, whose thunderous slam dunk at 3: 24 was State's final score in the half.

Dampier's biggest contribution, though, was on defense, where he collected three of State's six blocked shots.

Pub Date: 3/23/96

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