Connecticut one step from Final Four

Second-seeded Huskies oust S. Illinois, 71-59, in regional semifinals

East Regional

March 23, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - A season removed from the NIT, Connecticut is one win away from the NCAA tournament's Final Four.

The Huskies, the second seed in the East Regional, saw their inside enforcer get in foul trouble, but they still put up a stiff defensive front and were in command throughout their 12th straight victory, as they stopped No. 11 seed Southern Illinois, 71-59, at the Carrier Dome.

Connecticut (27-6) will take on No. 1 seed Maryland tomorrow, with the victor moving on to the Final Four to face the Midwest Regional champion a week from today in Atlanta.

Southern Illinois (28-8) was harassed into a wretched shooting performance that derailed its bid to become the first team from the Missouri Valley Conference to play in the Elite Eight since Wichita State in 1981.

The last team standing from the Big East Conference, Connecticut won with the kind of defensive performance that has become the standard for coach Jim Calhoun, who uses three freshmen and only one senior. Southern Illinois never got closer than six points in the second half, as the Salukis scored fewer than 60 points for only the second time this season and made just 38.3 percent of their field-goal attempts. Southern Illinois made just one of 14 three-pointers.

"We tried to discourage them from doing what they normally do," Calhoun said. "They were not going to beat us with great passing and three-point shooting. That's what brought them back against Texas Tech and Georgia. Our guards did a great job of extending on defense. We got a little sloppy at the offensive end, but at times tonight we were brilliant defensively."

Connecticut, the 1999 NCAA champion, got 19 points from sophomore Caron Butler and 12 from reserve guard Ben Gordon. Southern Illinois' Rolan Roberts crammed 16 of his game-high 24 into the first half, when he made eight of his 10 shots. He finished 11-for-16 from the field, but the rest of Salukis made just 27.2 percent of their shots, 12-for-44.

The Huskies' over-playing defense is designed to rely on Emeka Okafor, but Roberts attacked the freshman center in the low post on the Salukis' first possession and didn't let up. The senior from Woodbridge, Va., had 12 points in the first seven minutes, but none of his teammates was comfortable shooting the ball in the wide-open spaces of the Carrier Dome.

Okafor played just nine minutes in the first half, but Calhoun's reserve big men kept banging, and junior guard Tony Robertson led an effort that blanked Kent Williams in the first half. Williams, whose 16.0 average led Southern Illinois, got all of his seven points in the second.

"I have gone against some guys that are physical, and I've gone against some guys that are quick, but they had a little bit of both," said Williams. "I had to fight for every open shot I got, and once I got an open shot, I just didn't knock it in."

Roberts, a transfer from Virginia Tech who was the Newcomer of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the MVC, got the Salukis their last lead at 14-13 on a tap. Connecticut went ahead to stay on Gordon's three-pointer from the right wing with 11:47 left, the Salukis kept having trouble finding the Huskies shooters, and Connecticut never looked back.

Gordon's three - Connecticut's fifth of the first half - completed a 12-4 run and gave the Huskies a commanding 40-28 lead at the break. Southern Illinois got within six on three occasions in the second, but the Salukis could never hit the shot that put pressure on the Huskies.

"It was the battle of the dogs," point guard Taliek Brown said, "and the Huskies won."

FG FT Reb

S. ILLINOIS Min M-A M-A O-T A PF PTS

Dearman 27 6-12 5-11 4-9 1 4 17

Hairston 31 0-5 2-2 3-3 1 3 2

Roberts 34 11-16 2-4 3-8 2 3 24

Belcher 25 0-3 0-0 1-2 3 5 0

Williams 30 2-11 3-4 0-2 2 3 7

Brooks 25 3-8 0-0 1-3 0 1 7

Buie 11 1-5 0-0 2-4 2 1 2

Willis 12 0-0 0-0 0-1 0 4 0

Korn 5 0-0 0-0 0-1 0 2 0

Totals 200 23-60 12-21 14-33 11 26 59

Percentages: FG .383, FT .571. 3-point goals: 1-14, .071 (Brooks 1-4, Buie 0-1, Belcher 0-2, Hairston 0-2, Williams 0-5). Team rebounds: 7. Blocked shots: 1 (Roberts). Turnovers: 12 (Williams 4, Dearman 3, Hairston 2, Roberts 2, Brooks). Steals: 5 (Belcher, Hairston, Korn, Roberts, Williams). Technical fouls: None.

FG FT Reb

UCONN Min M-A M-A O-T A PF PTS

Butler 38 6-16 6-9 2-4 2 2 19

Selvie 30 3-7 2-3 1-2 1 4 8

Okafor 22 4-5 1-2 2-6 1 4 9

TBrown 33 2-5 4-6 3-7 4 4 9

Robertson 28 4-9 1-2 0-3 1 2 10

Gordon 23 4-7 2-4 0-5 5 0 12

JBrown 7 0-2 0-0 1-1 0 1 0

Hayes 17 1-1 2-4 2-2 0 2 4

Tooles 2 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 3 0

Totals 200 24-52 18-30 11-30 14 22 71

Percentages: FG .462, FT .600. 3-point goals: 5-9, .556 (Gordon 2-3, T.Brown 1-2, Butler 1-2, Robertson 1-2). Team rebounds: 8. Blocked shots: 2 (Butler, Okafor). Turnovers: 14 (Butler 5, Gordon 2, Okafor 2, Selvie 2, J.Brown, Hayes, Robertson). Steals: 6 (T.Brown 2, Butler, Gordon, Okafor, Selvie). Technical fouls: None.

Southern Illinois 28 31 - 59

Connecticut 40 31 - 71

Officials-Tom O'Neil, Sr., Art McDonald, David Libby.

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