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Okafor dominant for Huskies

12/7/2002

STORRS, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun didn't get
the defensive effort from his team that he wanted, but a career
game from center Emeka Okafor was the next best thing.

The sophomore center had 23 points, a career-high 19 rebounds
and eight blocks to help the Huskies (No. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 11 AP) hold off Wagner
97-85 on Saturday night.

"We couldn't stop them inside or outside,'' Calhoun said. "It
just became the case that Emeka was too much of a force.''

With Okafor in the middle, the Huskies (5-0) dominated the post.
UConn outrebounded the Seahawks 55-33, getting 27 points off second
chances.

"We're really trying hard to improve our D, because that's what
is going to win us games,'' Okafor said. "They got ahead of us and
played their game, but we stuck with ours and got the win.''

Okafor has come up big for the Huskies since the season started,
recording a double-double in all five games. The last time a UConn
player had five straight double-doubles to open the season was Tony
Hanson in 1976-77.

His teammates have come to rely on him, but know he can't do it
all.

"Everybody has to be there to help him out,'' guard Taliek
Brown said. "I was really upset that we gave away a lot of easy
baskets.''

Shut down in the post, Wagner (2-3) relied on a strong outside
game to rally from double-digit deficits several times.

Dedrick Dye finished with 20 points for the Seahawks, hitting
four of his six 3-pointers in the second half. The Seahawks climbed
back from a 15-point deficit at the break and got within five
points twice in the second half. Courtney Pritchard hit a 3-pointer
for Wagner with 5:55 left to cut UConn's lead to 79-74.

Ben Gordon countered with a 3-pointer seconds later and the
Seahawks would get no closer.

Wagner coach Dereck Whittenburg said he believes his team earned
a measure of respect Saturday night by hanging with the Huskies.

"I really believe we had a chance. Our kids hung in there,''
Whittenburg said. "And that's why everybody who sat in the stands
were very quiet, and they thought 'Well, this is another Saturday
night blowout for Connecticut.' But our kids don't think that.''

Whittenburg also had a lot of respect for Okafor.

"I don't think he knows how good he is,'' Whittenburg said. "I
think he can get 30 and 15 every night if he wants.''

Wagner held an early 10-4 lead, fueled by two 3-pointers from
Dye. After a short runs by both squads, a layup from Pritchard with
11:34 left in the first half gave the Seahawks an 18-17 lead, their
last of the game.

UConn went ahead for good on two free throws from Gordon that
kicked off a 13-2 run midway through the half. The Huskies led by
as many as 17 in the period and took a 53-38 lead at halftime.

Gordon finished with 29 points. Brown had 15 points and eight
assists for UConn. Teammate Tony Robertson scored 12 and was 8-of-8
from the line.

Jermaine Hall had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Wagner.

The Huskies lead the series 4-0, but the latest win had Calhoun
looking for answers on defense.

"I'm perplexed more than worried,'' Calhoun said. "I think
after tonight, we'll be the No. 1 scoring team in the league and
the worst defensive team in the league as far as points per game.''