Top-seeded UConn wins clash of titans

Huskies take first-ever matchup against Kentucky

Connecticut 87 Kentucky 83

Washington Regional

Ncaa Tournament

March 20, 2006|By LEW FREEDMAN

PHILADELPHIA -- Connecticut will probably send six players to the NBA from its current roster. Kentucky could only get five players into the scoring column yesterday afternoon.

In what was the first game between two members of college basketball aristocracy, the Huskies sent a reminder that in the NCAA tournament the moment is paramount, not the history books.

Shaking off a surprisingly close call in a first-round victory over Albany, the Huskies looked more like themselves in holding off the Wildcats, 87-83, at the Wachovia Center.

The win propelled Connecticut (28-3) into a Sweet 16 game Friday night against the Washington Huskies in the Washington Regional.

"I'm so proud of my kids," Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said of his No. 1-seeded team. "We took every shot Kentucky had. It's amazing we were playing Kentucky for the very first time."

The Huskies of the Big East were clear favorites over a weaker-than-usual Kentucky team that was rumored to be on the selection bubble before the Southeastern Conference tournament. But despite having only five players score, the scrappy Wildcats (22-13) were never out of the hunt for the upset.

Connecticut ran up leads of 22-10, 43-31 and 58-45 by sharing the offensive production among guard Marcus Williams (20 points), forward and Archbishop Spalding grad Rudy Gay (19) guard Denham Brown (14), guard Rashad Anderson (14) and center Hilton Armstrong (10). Yet the Wildcats closed to within two points several times late.

"We made some runs at them and had an opportunity there," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said.

Never, however, did Kentucky get a shot at the lead. "Kentucky kept fighting back," Calhoun said. "That's why they're Kentucky."

The Huskies deflected Wildcats charges, showed poise and made big shots, which is why Connecticut is Connecticut, a team periodically ranked No. 1 in the polls this season and winner of two NCAA titles since 1999.

Usually, Kentucky is a national contender, but the Wildcats weren't even in the Associated Press Top 25 at season's end. They have limited depth (all 10 points off the bench came from forward Sheray Thomas), yet were sparked by undersized guard Patrick Sparks (28 points). Sparks, generously listed as being 6 feet tall, hit four three-pointers and made Kentucky's offense go.

Despite upsets all over the tournament brackets, the Huskies survived.

"These were the two toughest games of my life," Gay said.

Lew Freedman writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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