U-turn at top: It's UConn

Champion Huskies avenge rout by returning favor to Georgia Tech, 82-73

UConn jumps out by 25, holds on

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

Ncaa Championship

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-American 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 finished one vote shy of being selected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, Connecticut (33-6) won its second national title in the past five years.

Okafor was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, finishing with 24 points and 15 rebounds, and Gordon added 21 points.

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 their deficit down to seven in the final minutes.

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. Calls were changed, missed and seemingly made up as they went along. Unlike Saturday's semifinal between Duke and Connecticut, 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 B.J. 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.,

It had nothing to do with the Yellow Jackets getting beat down the court. It had nothing to do with Georgia Tech's guards failing to defend Gordon on the perimeter. And it had nothing to do with all the missed free throws.

After cutting a 32-18 deficit to 36-26 with the help of a layup and drive by reserve guard Will Bynum, the Yellow Jackets had a chance to make it a game despite Schenscher's absence.

But Georgia Tech missed three straight one-and-ones, two of them by Bynum, an 80 percent free-throw shooter. Bynum missed a pair of free throws in the closing seconds before Rashad Anderson made a three at the halftime buzzer for a 41-26 lead.

The Yellow Jackets finished the half shooting 13-for-34 from the field, including two of 10 on free throws, as well as seven of their 11 free throws. Jack finished the half with only two points and missed all four shots he attempted.

The Huskies were not exactly heating it up, going 13-for-32 from the field and 4-for-13 on threes. But a typically poor free-throw shooting team made 11 of 15 from the line. Gordon finished with the half with 14 points in 15 minutes, and Okafor added 10.

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