Jan 26, 2002
By BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer
TUCSON, Ariz. - Connecticut finally made the national rankings last week, barely, at No. 25.
Saturday's nationally televised 100-98 overtime victory at No. 10 Arizona should earn the Huskies a little more attention.
"It's clearly the biggest statement we've made as a team this year, and it was a great basketball game," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "We had to draw everything out within ourselves to win."
Connecticut freshmen Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon shared the spotlight in as entertaining a game as the college sport can offer.
Okafor fell a blocked shot shy of a triple-double with 19 points and 15 rebounds. Gordon matched his career-high with 23 points and had a career-best nine assists as the Huskies (13-4) won their sixth straight.
"This was a classic game," said Connecticut's Taliek Brown, who scored four of his 21 points in overtime. "They would hit 3s, then we would score, and then we would play good defense, and it was just back and forth the whole game."
As terrific as the victory was, it was the second biggest development of the day for Calhoun, whose third granddaughter, Avery Mary, was born at 1:05 a.m., EST, in Hartford.
Calhoun was nearly knocked to the floor by his ecstatic players when the game ended.
"Ben, he jumped on me," Calhoun said. "It's a good thing I've been working out a little. It would be very disappointing to have Avery see her grandfather on the floor at the end of game and be knocked down by one his own players."
Okafor officially has 63 blocks in 17 games. In reality, he has about 16 more, Calhoun said, and should have had a triple-double on Saturday.
"He had 12 blocks," Calhoun said. "I'm not sure why everybody misses them. I know if you're playing against him, you don't miss them."
Jason Gardner scored 24 of his 30 points in the second half but was scoreless in the overtime for the Wildcats (13-6), who lost for the second time this week and now plays four consecutive Pac-10 road games against the league's California schools.
"The difference in the game was Okafor," Arizona coach Lute Olson said. "Every time we seemed to have an opportunity to get to the bucket, he was there. He changed the total complexion of the game. He was the most effective player on the court."
Will Bynum missed a wide-open 3-pointer from the baseline for Arizona with two seconds to play in the overtime.
"I thought it was going in," he said. "I was in rhythm. It's a tough loss for the team. It's especially tough for me. I usually make those kinds of shots."
Salim Stoudamire, who scored 20 points, made consecutive 3-pointers to start the overtime and give Arizona a 97-91 lead, but Connecticut outscored the Wildcats 9-1 the rest of the way.
"Today was all about poise and reason," Okafor said. "You come out here and play in this hostile environment and you have to be ready. We kept fighting. We didn't come all these miles just for the nice weather, we came here to win."
Gordon started the decisive surge with a 3-pointer, then Caron Butler stripped the ball from Luke Walton and hit Brown for a layup to cut it to 97-96 with 2:30 remaining.
Tony Robertson, one of six UConn players in double figures with 14 points, blocked Bynum's layup and Brown scored on a drive to put the Huskies ahead for good, 98-97 with a minute to go.
Gardner missed a 3, then Johnnie Selvie scored inside to give Connecticut a 100-97 lead with 20 seconds remaining.
Gardner was fouled by Brown just before taking a 3-point shot with 10 seconds left. He missed the first of the two free throws but made the second. Butler, inbounding the ball because Brown had fouled out, threw away the inbounds pass to give Arizona its final shot.
Butler was just 6-for-19 from the field and had 12 points.
Walton scored 18 points but seven turnovers. Channing Frye added 17 for the Wildcats, who are 0-3 against Connecticut all-time.
Stoudamire's school-record string of 39 consecutive free throws ended with a miss with 15:33 to go. Coach Lute Olson had put Stoudamire into the game to shoot two free throws in place of the injured Isaiah Fox. Arizona didn't get the second free throw, either, because of a lane violation.
Gardner's NBA-length 3-pointer gave Arizona a 91-89 lead with 41 seconds left in regulation, but Butler's inside basket with 19 seconds to play tied it.
Gardner's driving layup was blocked by Okafor, then Walton threw the inbounds pass away and Connecticut couldn't get a shot off before the regulation ended.