East semifinal

NCAA Tournament

March 22, 2002|By Paul McMullen

No. 2 Connecticut (26-6) vs. No. 12 S. Illinois (28-7)

Site: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

Time: 7:38 tonight

Conference records: Connecticut went 13-3 in the Big East and beat Pittsburgh in the conference tournament final. Southern Illinois shared the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title at 14-4 with Creighton, which beat the Salukis in the MVC tournament title game.

Coaches: Jim Calhoun is 375-148 in 16 seasons at Connecticut, 625-258 in 30 seasons overall. Bruce Weber is 74-48 in four seasons at Southern Illinois.

Connecticut's lineup: G Taliek Brown (9.1 ppg, 5.2 apg); G Tony Robertson (11.2 ppg, 45.5 FG pct); F Caron Butler (20.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3.0 apg); F Johnnie Selvie (11.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg); C Emeka Okafor (7.9 ppg, 4.3 bpg, 58.9 FG pct.).

Southern Illinois' lineup: G Marcus Belcher (6.2 ppg, 3.3 apg); G Stetson Hairston (7.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg); G Kent Williams (16.0 ppg), F Jermaine Dearman (12.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg), C Rolan Roberts (13.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg).

Bench strength: Connecticut isn't that deep, as Scott Hazelton and Mike Hayes see spot duty on the front line and freshman Ben Gordon (12.7 ppg) offers a spark in the backcourt. Southern Illinois leans heavily on its perimeter players, and Darren Brooks (9.5 ppg) gives them another shooter. Brad Korn, Tyrese Buie and Sylvester Willis log double-digit minutes up front .

Key matchup: The Salukis play a three-guard lineup, and freshman Hairston typically draws the opponent's top scorer. At 6 feet 3 and 205 pounds, his size wasn't a hindrance in the MVC, but is he big enough to bang inside with Butler, the versatile 6-7, 235-pound sophomore who was Big East co-Player of the Year?

What Connecticut needs to do to win: The Huskies are not the prettiest team in town, but they are as athletically gifted as any that have reached Syracuse. Butler will find a way to get his points, but sophomore point guard Brown needs to rebound from a shaky performance against N.C. State, and defenders must keep funneling shooters to Okafor, a 6-9 freshman who's one of the nation's top shot-blockers.

What Southern Illinois needs to do to win: The Salukis were tougher than Texas Tech and more composed than Georgia. They rarely depart from their man defensive principles, and Weber has to hope that his guards can rattle Brown. Roberts hasn't attempted a three-pointer this season, but he made 24 in three years at Virginia Tech. It would help if he can make Okafor defend away from the basket.

Bottom line: Southern Illinois takes pride in its defense, as opponents have made 40.2 percent of their field-goal attempts. Connecticut foes have made just 37.7 percent. The Salukis stop here.

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