UConn's 1-2 punch KO's 'Bama

Gordon gets 36 points, Anderson 28 as Huskies roll into Final Four, 87-71

Ncaa Tournament

March 28, 2004|By Fred Mitchell | Fred Mitchell,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

PHOENIX - Connecticut's 17-point, second-round NCAA tournament rout of DePaul, it turns out, was merely a dress rehearsal for yesterday's 87-71 thrashing of a similarly constructed Alabama team in the Phoenix Regional final.

Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun described Alabama as being "similar to DePaul in size, but quicker" before his taller and supremely talented Huskies punched their ticket to another Final Four.

Despite receiving limited action from All-America center Emeka Okafor (neck stinger), No. 2 seed Connecticut rode the hot shooting of guards Ben Gordon (36 points) and Rashad Anderson (28 points) to send the eighth-seeded Crimson Tide (20-13) back to Tuscaloosa.

Connecticut (31-6) appears destined to capture its second national title in five years if it continues to play the way it has in this tournament. Winning by margins of 17, 17, 20 and 16, Connecticut is riding an unbeatable combination of inside defensive intimidation and outside shooting brilliance.

Connecticut will play the winner of today's Atlanta Regional final between Duke and Xavier.

The Huskies defeated Duke in the 1999 NCAA championship game after passing through the Phoenix Regional.

"It would have been incredibly disappointing if we didn't get to the Final Four with this group," Calhoun said after his team's one-sided triumph in front of 17,889 at America West Arena.

"This is as good a group of kids as I have ever been around. They are incredibly talented. I don't know if it is the best group I have ever had. If they win the championship, I might talk about that later."

The outcome virtually was determined in the first half when Connecticut surged to a 53-29 lead as Anderson hit all six of his three-point tries. Anderson blew on his right hand as if he were cooling off a red-hot trigger finger when he backpedaled on defense.

"I thought the basketball goal was really huge," Anderson said of his career-high performance. "I just felt like I couldn't miss, and my teammates would find me and feed me the ball in open situations."

The Huskies were 9-for-11 from three-point range in the first half, leaving Alabama helpless and frustrated.

"That was the best half of basketball anyone has played against us all year," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. "They shot the ball well, and we just didn't have an answer in the first half."

Alabama, making its first Elite Eight appearance, shot 52 percent from the field in the second half, yet never seriously could challenge the Huskies.

"We are making a run, trying to come back, and then you have to go back and try to figure out how to stop them defensively," said Gottfried, whose team was led in scoring by Chuck Davis (24 points) and Kennedy Winston (21 points).

Gordon, voted the Phoenix Regional's Most Valuable Player, made 11 of 19 shots, including 4-for-7 from three-point range. The tandem of Gordon and Anderson combined to hit 20 of 39 shots, including 10 of 16 three-pointers.

"I can't even find an explanation. Neither of us had shot that well in any one game," Gordon said.

Calhoun explained that teams such as Alabama and DePaul have trouble matching up in the backcourt with the guard tandem of Gordon and Taliek Brown (10 assists).

"[Gordon] is a good player and is lightning quick," Alabama guard Earnest Shelton said. "At the same time, he can knock down a jump shot from outside and is really good with the ball, going left and right."

Connecticut, which has dominated the boards all season, outrebounded Alabama, 40-33, and took advantage of 16 second-chance points to Alabama's eight.

With four players 6 feet 10 and taller, Connecticut would give any team fits.

"It gets you a little tired going up against guys like that when they are always fresh off the bench, when they have that many guys that size," Alabama's 6-7 Davis said. "We have played a few teams like this, but they may be the best talented overall as a team."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

BIG DANCE GLANCE

YESTERDAY

Phoenix Regional

Connecticut 87 Alabama 71

East Rutherford Regional

Oklahoma State 64 Saint Joseph's 62

TODAY

St. Louis Regional

Georgia Tech vs. Kansas chs. 13, 9 2:40 p.m.

Atlanta Regional Duke vs. Xavier chs. 13, 9 5:05 p.m.

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