UConn in cruise control

Champion Huskies avenge early-season rout, roll by Georgia Tech, 82-73

UConn jumps out by 25, holds on

Center Okafor's 24 points, 15 rebounds lead the way

April 06, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SAN ANTONIO - Connecticut did more than erase the memory of an early-season 16-point defeat to Georgia Tech in last night's NCAA championship game last night at the Alamodome. The Huskies obliterated it, and the Yellow Jackets, in the process.

With junior All-America center Emeka Okafor dominating inside, junior guard Ben Gordon scoring easily outside, and Georgia Tech self-destructing everywhere, Connecticut cruised to an 82-73 victory that wasn't as close as the final score indicated.

On a day when Huskies coach Jim Calhoun was not selected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, Connecticut (33-6) won its second national title in the past five years. Should its women's team beat Tennessee tonight in New Orleans, it will mark the first double of its kind in history.

Okafor was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, finishing with 24 points and 15 rebounds, and Gordon added 21 points. Will Bynam led Georgia Tech with 17 points, but his poor free-throw shooting in the first half helped the Huskies open a 41-26 halftime lead.

"We did have a big lead at halftime and I wanted to make sure we were going to stand on the podium after the game," Calhoun said on the podium after the game. "I wanted to make them play to catch us. Georgia Tech started making a lot of threes. More than I can count. That made me nervous."

But those nerves turned to utter joy as the final seconds ticked down. When the horn sounded, senior point guard Taliek Brown tossed the ball high into the air. Rashad Anderson retrieved it, and Okafor chased his teammate around the court. Like the Yellow Jackets, Okafor was unsuccessful.

"It feels real good," said Brown, who had been maligned throughout his career. "I'm really proud of this team. We went out with a bang my senior year. It's the best feeling ever."

Said Okafor: "It feels good. We earned it. Georgia Tech was a great team. They came and played their hearts out. I have to give all the respect to them. We wanted it and we took it."

Connecticut built a double-digit lead in the first 11 minutes, led by 15 at halftime and by as many as 25 before Georgia Tech (28-10) found some measure of self-respect by cutting its deficit down to seven in the 10 seconds.

The one-sided nature of the game seemed to back up what many were saying going into this years's Final Four: that the Connecticut-Duke semifinal Saturday, won by the Huskies, 79-78, was really the championship game.

Leading 41-26 at halftime - the largest lead in a championship game since UCLA led Dayton by 18 in 1967 - the Huskies picked up where they left off. Connecticut built its lead to 21 a little more than three minutes as a rebound follow by Okafor made it 49-28.

Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, they picked up where they left off.

Point guard Jarrett Jack, who had only two points in the first half, dribbled off his knee on a drive. B.J. Elder missed the first of two free throws, making it six straight misses from the first half. Forward Anthony McHenry stepped over the end line trying an inbounds pass.

Not having enough problems of its own, Georgia Tech had to contend with some shoddy officiating by a West Coast crew. Unlike Saturday's semifinal, when the bad calls went both ways, these seemed to favor the Huskies.

The lead increased to 23, 54-31, on a hanging jumper by Gordon; to 25, 56-31, on a tip-in by forward Josh Boone. The freshman from Mount Airy made a dunk later on for a 60-35 lead before the Yellow Jackets chipped it down.

Both teams came out firing, seemingly at will. Neither came out hitting.

The Yellow Jackets missed their first three shots before a goaltending call against Okafor on a drive by Marvin Lewis, then missed their next five before Elder hit a three. The Huskies also missed their first three and were only four of their first 15.

As ragged as the play was, the officiating was equally inconsistent.

On Connecticut's second possession, Boone went up for a dunk and appeared to be blocked by McHenry. A replay - the last shown last night on a foul call - showed McHenry blocked Boone cleanly.

A few minutes later, Gordon went up for a three-pointer and Luke Schenscher, who was trailing on the play, blocked it from behind and appeared to force a jump ball. Instead, he was called for his first foul and Gordon made all three free throws.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt argued about it during a timeout, took Schenscher out, and watched the Huskies continue on an 11-0 run that saw Gordon pull up after at least two steps and hit a three. Another three by Gordon gave Connecticut a 21-12 lead with 11:17 left in the half.

While another questionable call resulted in Schenscher's second foul with 5:48 remaining in the half - forcing the 7-foot-1 center to sit out the remainder of the half - the officiating had nothing to do with Georgia Tech's collapse at the end of the half.,

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