7:00 PM ET, January 14, 2003
Harry A. Gampel Pavilion, Storrs Mansfield, Connecticut
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Sixth-ranked Connecticut relied on its pressure defense to pull out of another slow start. Once the Huskies got rolling, Virginia Tech was all but done.Ben Gordon scored 24 points and Emeka Okafor had 19 as UConn rallied from a 10-point deficit to an 83-65 victory. "We can't afford to keep having slow starts. We have to start jumping on teams early,'' Okafor said. The Huskies (11-1, 2-0 Big East) were outmuscled inside in the first half, but turned it around in the second with stepped-up defense and 69 percent shooting from the field. The Huskies' pressure defense sparked transition baskets and wore down the Hokies. UConn had eight of its 12 steals in the second half. "I don't care who we are playing. If we play like that for 40 minutes, we're going to be a tough out,'' UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "Once we get our fast break ignited it seems to do an awful lot for our whole psyche.'' Okafor led UConn with 12 rebounds and had all five of his blocks in the second half. Gordon had two of his three steals during a 21-3 run that snapped a 54-all tie. The run, which lasted eight minutes, was capped by Gordon's dunk with 3:32 left that gave UConn a 75-57 lead. Virginia Tech (6-8, 0-2) shot just 28 percent in the second half and went 11 minutes without a field goal. Tech coach Ricky Stokes knew what to expect in the second half after watching the tape of UConn's Dec. 10 win over Massachusetts. The Huskies were down 30-9 at the half but outscored UMass 50-18 in the second half. "They were going to come out and play very aggressive,'' Stokes said. "We knew it was coming and we didn't attack it as well as we would have liked.'' UConn didn't have an answer early for Terry Taylor, Tech's big man who scored 14 points in the first half as the Hokies took a 43-39 lead. That all changed in the second half as Okafor won the battle inside, blocking four of Taylor's shots. Taylor had just one field goal in the second half, a jumper in the first minute. Taylor had his way with UConn in the first half. The Huskies switched defenders on him several times, but could do little to slow the stout 292-pounder once he rolled to the basket. "He's a strong guy,'' Okafor said. "He's forceful and asserted himself. I was surprised how some of his shots went in. I even got a hand on some of those shots, that shows you how strong he is.'' The Huskies' six turnovers in the first seven minutes helped fuel a 14-3 Tech run. Taylor's jumper with 12:31 left gave Tech a 20-10 lead, its largest of the half. Tony Robertson scored six points in a 17-3 UConn run that gave the Huskies a 27-23 lead with 8:40 left. It didn't last long. Taylor scored again and had an assist as Tech followed with a 7-0 run. Hilton Armstrong, making his first start for UConn, finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. The 6-foot-10 freshman post player also had two blocks and three steals. Calhoun had high praise for the rookie. "He gave us a passer, he gave us a shot-blocker, he gave us some legitimate size,'' Calhoun said. "I just hope and believe he's only going to get better.'' Taylor finished with 16 points and seven rebounds, while Brian Chase scored 16 points and Carlos Dixon had 10. Robertson said the Huskies knew that Tech would expect the press in the second half, but it made little difference. "Knowing something is going to happen and beating it are two different things,'' Robertson said.