8:00 PM ET, March 13, 2004
Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
NEW YORK (AP) -- Ben Gordon had a game-winning shot, a tournament record, an MVP trophy and a smile that could be on his face for days."I don't have a lot of words to explain it. I'm just happy we won, and to get the MVP, this is the best moment of my life," Gordon said after his jumper in the lane with 30 seconds left lifted No. 9 Connecticut to a 61-58 victory over No. 6 Pittsburgh on Saturday night in the Big East championship gameIt was the third big game in as many nights for the junior guard who broke Allen Iverson's record for points in a tournament as the Huskies won their record-tying sixth Big East title.Gordon was the star for the Huskies (27-6) in the first two games when center Emeka Okafor was out with back spasms. He struggled with his shooting in the championship game but it was his jumper in the lane with 30 seconds left that gave Connecticut a 59-58 lead and then he added two free throws with 0.5 seconds to play to cap the win.He had 29 points in each of the first two games and set a tournament record for points with 81, two more than Iverson had for Georgetown in 1996."Big-time players do it in the big games and he did," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said of Gordon.Okafor played Saturday night and he had 11 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots, but it was Gordon who was selected MVP."We're roommates and all I kept saying to him was `domination," Okafor said of Gordon. "That's what he did. He dominated."It was the third straight year the defending champion Panthers (29-4) and Connecticut met in the championship game and they provided another classic."I thought we played with tremendous heart and desire, as always," first-year Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We responded and did everything we wanted to do. We just came out short."Gordon's jumper in the lane was the third lead change in the final 2:01.Rashad Anderson's 3-pointer gave the Huskies a 57-56 lead with 2:01 left, their first since opening the game with a 13-2 run.Mark McCarroll hit a bank shot with 1:35 left to give the Panthers a 58-57 lead. Both teams had a scoreless possession before Gordon capped a 7-for-22 night with the tough shot in the lane.Carl Krauser's drive with 8 seconds left was blocked by Josh Boone and the loose ball was grabbed by McCarroll who missed a jumper. The buzzer sounded and Gordon threw the ball into the stands to start the celebration, but the teams came back on the court when a review by the officials had a foul on McCarroll with a half-second left.When Gordon made the two free throws, Pitt's final chance ended with a missed jumper -- a 2 -- by Julius Page at the buzzer and the real celebration started at Madison Square Garden."We had a mismatch and there was a big guy on me," Gordon said of his jumper. "I was going to take a jump shot but I saw an opening and went to the basket. I got undercut a little, put it up and it went in."McCarroll and Chris Taft each had 11 points for the Panthers, while Jaron Brown and Krauser each had 10.Anderson added 14 points for the Huskies, who played without freshman forward Charlie Villanueva who hurt his right ankle twice in the semifinal win over Villanova.But they did have Okafor, the conference player of the year, who missed the first two games because of back spasms connected to a small stress fracture of the fifth lumbar vertebrae.Okafor was also selected the Big East's defensive player of the year and its scholar-athlete. He averages 18.7 points, 11.5 rebounds and a nation-leading 4.5 blocked shots per game."My back wasn't an issue," he said. "It was my first time playing hard since last Sunday. There were no spasms it was just getting back in the flow."Pittsburgh answered Connecticut's opening 13-2 run with a 19-2 spurt and then kept the defense on in the first half. The Panthers led 34-25 after holding the Huskies to 29.4 percent shooting and getting seven steals as part of 10 Connecticut turnovers.Pittsburgh led by as many as 11 points and answered every Connecticut run in the second half to keep the Huskies at bay until Okafor scored on an offensive rebound and Gordon hit a 3 to make it 55-54 with 2:55 left. Okafor committed his fifth foul with 2:19 to go and Chevon Troutman made one free throw for a two-point lead. Anderson's 3 came 18 seconds later."When you play Pitt being down 10 or 11 you feel like you're down 20," Connecticut's Taliek Brown said. "We never gave up and attacked like we were still in the hunt."The teams split their regular-season meetings, winning on their home courts.It was the fourth straight final for the Panthers and the eighth in 10 years for Connecticut.Connecticut's six titles tie Georgetown for the most in the tournament's 25-year history. The Huskies won in 1990, 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2002."We had a difficult week with Emeka's back and Charlie's leg," Calhoun said. "These kids fought hard and won. The first one was great. This one was equal to it."This was the eighth time the Big East title game was between teams ranked in the Top Ten.
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