Upset in an 18-point home loss to St. Bonaventure's last season, the sophomore starters for No. 5 Connecticut weren't about to let it happen again.
They got it done this year with some help from a couple of sharp-shooting freshmen.
Gordon scored 25 points, Okafor added 18 and freshmen Denham
Brown and Rashad Anderson combined for six first-half 3-pointers in
UConn's 95-78 victory that avenged the stinging loss and kept the
"It was definitely about getting a payback,'' Gordon said. "They came in and embarrassed us last year.''
That proved to be the turnaround game for UConn, which closed out the season by winning 12 of games and reached the NCAA regional final.
Gordon led UConn's 3-point shooting assault as the Huskies shot
60 percent from behind the arc (12-of-20). He scored 13 points in a
22-5 run early in the second half, capping the spurt with
consecutive 3-pointers. Okafor dominated inside with five blocks
and grabbed 14 rebounds to give the Huskies a 46-40 edge on the boards.
"It really puts incredible pressure on the other teams when you
can make 3s like that and then you have a post man you throw to
inside,'' Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said.
The Huskies (9-0) are one of four unbeaten Division I teams
remaining this season. The others -- Duke (8-0), Wake Forest (8-0)
and Clemson (9-0) -- are all from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"You can't really just dwell on the fact that we're 9-0. Any team can play any way on any given day,'' Okafor said. "The more games you win, the bigger that target gets on your back.''
The Huskies led by as many as 25 points after trailing by 10
early in the first half. Brown and Anderson sparked the comeback by
each shooting 3-for-4 from behind the arc in the first half.
Anderson, in the game for just a few seconds, calmly made
consecutive 3s with 8 minutes remaining, and after a St.
Bonaventure basket, followed up with a dunk to cut the Bonnies'
lead to 22-21.
"This is the type of game I love,'' Anderson said. "It doesn't
matter who is playing, I feel that I can do this against anybody.''
Tony Roberston hit a 3-pointer to give UConn its first lead with 10:06 remaining. The teams traded baskets and leads over the next three minutes before Brown hit a 3-pointer to give UConn the lead for good at 33-30 with 5:53 left. Brown hit two more 3s over the next minute to help the Huskies pull away and take a 52-42 halftime lead.
The Bonnies closed within 56-51 early in the second half on 3s
by Green, Gansey and Cortez Sutton. But with the Bonnies defense
extended to guard against the 3s, Okafor went to work in the
middle, hitting two straight jumpers 14:53 left to start a 15-0 run
over the next two minutes.
"He clogs that lane up,'' St. Bonaventure coach Jan van Breda Kolff said. "Defensive rebound and blocking shots, there is no one better in the country. Fortunately, we won't have to play him again.''
The Bonnies were unable to string together more than two
straight baskets the rest of the way, shooting 32 percent in the
Anderson had 13 points and Brown finished with 12 for UConn.
Calhoun said he was eager to see how this year's squad matched
up against the scrappy Bonnies, who arrived at the Hartford Civic
Center with a swagger.
"They were one of the most dangerous teams we've faced this
stretch. They were talking before the game a little more than
normal,'' Calhoun said. "I told our kids `They can talk to you
guys because they kicked your butt last year. There's only one
answer. The answer will be on the scoreboard at the end of the game.'''
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