4:30 PM ET, January 11, 2004
Harry A. Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Connecticut
STORRS, Conn. (AP) -- Emeka Okafor had a hard time hiding a smile. That happens when you and your team play a game that has people throwing around superlatives and compliments.Okafor fell one blocked shot short of a triple-double and No. 1 Connecticut put on one of the most impressive defensive displays of the season, knocking No. 6 Oklahoma from the ranks of the unbeaten, 86-59 Sunday."That's easily the best defense we played all year and we did it against a quality opponent," Okafor said. "Everything's contagious. The great defense led to our offense and it just keeps on going. We were all in synch and it showed out on the court."Did it ever.Connecticut's defense was so good that Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said one of the officials commented to him after the game it was the best defense he had seen this season."We had flashes of being exceptional," Calhoun said. "We had the tempo we wanted and the defense allowed that. Emeka's shot-blocking allowed that."It would take me a while to find a game where we played as well as that as far as everything combined."Okafor, the leading vote-getter on the AP's preseason All-America team, had 21 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocked shots for the Huskies (13-1). He had a triple-double earlier this season against Army with 18 points, 15 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.With the 6-foot-10 Okafor anchoring things in the middle, Connecticut contested every pass and forced the Sooners (10-1) into quick shots time after time in winning their 10th straight game."They may be as good as anyone we've played in 10 years," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said. "Their team speed, until you see them up close and personal you don't know how fast they are. ... They impose their transition game on you. Connecticut was just shoving down our throats."Oklahoma came into the game shooting 43.7 percent from the field with its worst outing 41.1 percent in a win at Michigan State. The Sooners' second real road game of the season had numbers that looked more like middle infielders' batting averages.Oklahoma finished 20-for-73 from the field (27.4 percent). The Sooners were 8-for-35 (22.9 percent) in the first half and struggled to match that as Connecticut pulled away to lead by as many 40 points.The Sooners were able to handle Connecticut's reserves, closing the game with a 14-2 run."We wanted to show everybody we belong where we're ranked and we're working hard," Okafor said. "This game was special because Oklahoma beat us two games in a row. We thought it was our time to shine. We came in with the right mindset."Denham Brown had 14 points for the Huskies, while Rashad Anderson had 13 and Ben Gordon and Charlie Villaneuva each had 11.Connecticut shot 52.3 percent for the game (34-for-65) and finished with a 50-37 rebound advantage."We showed a lot of the wares we have and what we can do," Calhoun said.Freshman Drew Lavender had 22 points and seven assists for the Sooners, while Jason Detrick had 16 points."We were missing shots we should have made but they were playing great defense as well," Detrick said. "We were trying to shoot over Emeka or Josh Boone or Villaneuva instead of trying to make the extra pass they were baiting us in there and we were falling for it."The win improved Connecticut to 6-1 against Top Ten teams in Gampel Pavilion and made Calhoun 1-4 against Oklahoma with two losses each at Northeastern and Connecticut.Oklahoma had had success against top-ranked teams, winning five of its last seven meetings with a No. 1.Connecticut's most impressive defensive stance came in the first half when the Huskies held Oklahoma scoreless for 7:46 in taking a 28-10 lead. The Sooners missed 12 shots in that span, making them 5-for-28 at the time, 3-for-23 from inside the 3-point line.The sellout crowd of 10,167 was enjoying every second of the defensive performance with the loudest cheers coming when Okafor blocked a shot that led to his easy layup that made it 80-42."Okafor is the star but doesn't play like it," Sampson said. "He plays every game like it's his last game and I respect that. The game doesn't come easily to everybody, it really comes easy to him."It was Oklahoma's worst loss since being beaten 72-44 at Oklahoma State on Feb. 14, 2001.
|» Jan 11, 2004||@CONN 86, OKLA 59||Recap|