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Villanueva hurts ankle, but won't miss final

3/13/2004

NEW YORK (AP) -- Connecticut and Pittsburgh will decide the Big
East tournament championship and settle an old score.

The Huskies and Panthers will play in the title game Saturday
night for the third straight year and each won one of the first
two.

"It's a big rivalry. We really hate those guys. That's all we
do is play each other," Connecticut guard Taliek Brown said after
the second-seeded and ninth-ranked Huskies beat Villanova 84-67
Friday night in the semifinals.

Sixth-ranked Pittsburgh (29-3), the top seed, beat Boston
College 62-53 in the other semifinal to set up the tie-breaking
rematch.

"We like to run and they play physical, it's a real battle,"
Brown said. "We beat them. They beat us. This is for the real
championship."

This will be the eighth of 25 Big East championship games to be
between Top Ten teams.

Ben Gordon scored 29 points and Connecticut (26-6) won again
without Emeka Okafor.

Gordon had the same number of points in the quarterfinal win
over Notre Dame on Thursday, which Okafor, the conference player of
the year, also missed because of back spasms. He will be a
game-time decision Saturday.

"Ben Gordon was absolutely incredible," Villanova coach Jay
Wright said. "We could not stop Gordon."

Charlie Villanueva, who replaced Okafor in the starting lineup,
injured his right ankle twice. He left for good after hurting it
with 7:01 to play. The freshman had five points, five rebounds and
three blocks.

"The X-rays were negative," Calhoun said. "People talk about
our depth, but when Charlie went down we had seven scholarship
players left."

Dr. Jeff Anderson, UConn's director of sports medicine, said Villanueva should be ready to go against Pitt, even though he probably won't be 100 percent.

The loss ends Villanova's surprise run in the tournament. The
Wildcats (16-16) beat Seton Hall and Providence to become the first
team in the tournament's 25-year history to enter with a sub-.500
record and win two games. The .500 record means they are eligible
for the NIT.

"We beat two outstanding teams and we just didn't have enough
to beat another one," Wright said.

Randy Foye led Villanova with 20 points, while Curtis Sumpter
and Jason Fraser each had 17.

The Huskies, who lead the nation in field-goal percentage
defense, held Villanova scoreless for 5:12 in the first half in
taking a 26-13 lead. The Wildcats shot 28.1 percent (9-for-32) in
the first half.

Connecticut scored the first five points of the second half to
go up 42-24, but the Wildcats went on a 15-2 run and were within
five at 44-39 with 14:14 to play on a 3-pointer by Foye.

The Huskies turned to their offense for a 15-2 run of their own
to take control as they scored on six of seven possessions. A
3-pointer by Rashad Anderson made it 70-50 with 5:41 left.

"I don't want to say it was fatigue," Wright said. "We dug a
hole twice, got out of it but couldn't do it a third time against a
team that good."

Freshman Josh Boone made up for Okafor's absence up front with
11 points, 15 rebounds and six blocked shots. He had 16 rebounds --
a Big East tournament freshman record -- against Notre Dame and he
was even more of a force on defense bettering Okafor's
nation-leading 4.5 blocks per game average.

"Josh was tremendously dominating inside," Connecticut coach
Jim Calhoun said. "He alleviated a lot of our problems."

Senior point guard Taliek Brown had 11 points and 10 assists. He
became Connecticut's season and career leader in assists with 214
for the season and 683 for his career. The Huskies lead the nation
in assists as well as rebound margin, blocks and field-goal
percentage defense.

"It meant a lot to get it on this floor," the New York native
said of Madison Square Garden. "It shows I did something in my
four years."

Okafor has a small stress fracture of the fifth lumbar vertebrae
and the spasms occur in the muscles around it, causing considerable
plain. Connecticut's team doctor said Okafor will play when the
pain allows him to.

Okafor, who participated in the team's shootaround Friday
morning, said he will definitely play in the NCAA tournament that
gets under way on March 18.

He also was selected the Big East's defensive player of the year
and its scholar-athlete and averages 18.7 points and 11.5 rebounds.

Villanova, which entered the tournament with five straight
losses, last played in the final in 1997.

Connecticut beat Villanova 75-74 in overtime in their only
meeting this season when Okafor blocked a drive by Foye at the
buzzer.