<
>

Okafor, Gordon help UConn end two-game losing skid

2/8/2003

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- It was an understatement to say
Connecticut was desperate for a win.

The (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) Huskies were playing without their coach and starting point guard. They lost their last two games by 24 and 21
points, giving up 95 points in each.

Forget the cliches: This was a must-win game.

And the Huskies got it, as Emeka Okafor scored 21 points and Ben
Gordon added 20 in an 84-68 victory over Providence on Saturday.

"We tried to give them a lot of confidence before this game,''
Connecticut associate head coach George Blaney said. "We talked to
them because their confidence was shattered. We told them to come
in with a swagger, come in with confidence, come in because you're
Connecticut and you're supposed to be good.''

This was the second game the Huskies (14-5, 5-3 Big East) played
without coach Jim Calhoun, who had surgery to remove a cancerous
prostate on Thursday and is expected to miss three-to-four weeks.
Blaney is running the team in Calhoun's absence.

It was also Connecticut's first game without junior guard Taliek
Brown, who underwent surgery Friday after breaking his left index
finger and is expected to miss four-to-six weeks.

"We went into the game trying to sell them on going back to Jim
Calhoun basketball which is defending, looking to fast break and
most of all being tough,'' Blaney said.

Some of the players got a chance to talk to Calhoun in his
hospital room after the game from a pay phone in the locker room.
Blaney said Calhoun, who is expected to be released Sunday, was
proud of the players for the way they responded.

"This has not been easy for the kids,'' Blaney said. "First
you take away Jim Calhoun, who is UConn basketball, and then you
take away Taliek, who shows so much heart on the court. You think
you're taking away too much from them.''

Gordon had a career-high six 3-pointers for the Huskies, who hit
a season-high 13 3s, going 13-for-19 from beyond the arc. Gordon,
who had seven assists, was 6-for-8 from 3-point range in taking
over for Brown at the point.

"Taliek was right there with us. He's still our leader,''
Gordon said of Brown, who had his arm in a sling. "The last two
games we played zero percent Connecticut basketball. When we play
the kind of game we did today it's hard for a team to play with
us.''

Okafor had nine rebounds as the Huskies finished with a 44-32
advantage on the boards.

"There was a sense of urgency, not of desperation,'' he said.
"A loss could have put a big dent in our confidence, but now we
have for momentum for Syracuse (on Monday night).''

Ryan Gomes and Maris Laksa each had 16 points for the Friars
(10-10, 3-6), who shot just 20 percent (7-for-35) in the first half
in losing for the fifth time in six games.

"Our game plan was to pressure them to see how they handled it
without Brown,'' Providence coach Tim Welsh said. "When I saw them
racing by us I decided to play zone, but they shot the ball over
us. They were the attackers and we weren't.''

Gordon's first two 3-pointers of the game started a 9-0 run that
gave the Huskies the lead for good, 21-17, with 8:18 left in the
half. Providence went 13:19 without a field goal -- the Friars
missed 17 straight shots -- and the Huskies led 41-31 at halftime.

Gordon sandwiched two 3s around a dunk by Okafor as Connecticut
went up 65-46 with 12:58 left, and the Huskies led by as many as 28
points -- 82-54 -- on a drive with 5:30 left by Tony Robertson, who
had 16 points. Providence closed the game with a 14-2 run.

"Ben Gordon did a good job at the point, handling the pressure,
breaking the press and then hitting the shots,'' Blaney said.
"Emeka Okafor got back to playing the way Emeka Okafor should
play.

"Confidence is a funny thing for a young team to look at. This
game could be a momentum builder. This is the way they have to
play.''