Okafor helped limit Coppenrath, the nation's third-leading
scorer at 24.7 points per game, to 12 points on 3-of-17 shooting,
and Rashad Anderson scored 22 points to lead Connecticut to a 70-53
victory Thursday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Coppenrath, who scored 43 points against Maine in the America
East Conference championship, hit a 3-pointer and two free throws
as Vermont scored the first seven points of the game and its legion
of fans smelled a rare upset.
Exit Josh Boone from guarding Coppenrath and enter Okafor, the
nation's leading shot blocker, and the Vermont star fizzled.
"I had to come in. He's a big-time player and I had to step up
to the challenge," said Okafor, who finished with 15 points and 14
rebounds, his 21st double-double of the season, tops in the nation.
"I knew we were going to come back eventually if we got our
offense running. There was no need to get worried."
Thanks to Anderson, who hit six straight 3-pointers to lead the
"We got kind of lackadaisical," Anderson said. "They got lots
of 3s -- seven in the first half. We don't give up that many in a
game. We just had to pick it up."
Connecticut (28-6), the Big East champion and second seed in the
Phoenix Regional, will play DePaul in the second round. The
seventh-seeded Blue Demons beat Dayton 76-69 in double overtime.
The Huskies improved to 12-0 in first-round games under coach
Jim Calhoun, who won his 30th tournament game to tie Adolph Rupp
for 12th on the career list.
Vermont (22-9) gave coach Tom Brennan and the team's loyal
following a thrill, staying with Connecticut early despite the
imposing odds of a 15th seed pulling off an upset. It's only been
accomplished four times.
"They really came out and played loose, they played like
Tommy's personality," Calhoun said. "They didn't seem to care
about a lot of things except having fun, competing, and trying to
make my life as miserable as possible."
The Huskies, so deep in talent, didn't have to rely on Ben
Gordon to lead the way as he did in the Big East tournament when
Okafor sat out two games with back problems. Anderson finished with
22 points, and Gordon and Taliek Brown each scored 14.
T.J. Sorrentine led the Cats with 19.
A large contingent of Vermont fans, most of them decked out in
gold T-shirts with the school name and logo on the front, cheered
loudly when the team took the floor for the pregame warmups. And it
didn't take long for the atmosphere in that section of the stands
to rumble with excitement once the game got under way.
David Hehn stole Connecticut's first pass and fed Coppenrath for
a 3-pointer just 30 seconds into the game. Germain Njila then hit a
jumper at the shot-clock buzzer and two free throws by Coppenrath
made it 7-0, putting a big smile on Brennan's face.
"Our main objective was to stay outside and lure him (Okafor)
away," said Coppenrath, who was 2-for-9 on 3-pointers. "We knew
he was having back problems, so we tried to move him out, but it
really ended up tiring me out."
UConn, with Calhoun pacing the sideline and chewing nervously on
a wad of gum, finally scored when Anderson hit a 3-pointer from the
right wing at 16:50, and Anderson didn't stop there. He hit five
more 3-pointers in a row to propel UConn into the lead.
Brown stole the ball from Coppenrath and scored on a fast-break
layup, then notched another steal on the next Vermont possession
and fed Gordon for a fast-break dunk that gave the Huskies a 21-15
The Catamounts refused to give in. Sorrentine sandwiched two
3-pointers around one by Alex Jensen to tie it at 24 with 8:29
Anderson hit his fifth 3 off an inbounds pass to break the tie,
Okafor converted a hook in the lane for his first basket, and
Anderson struck again, this time from the top of the key, to give
the Huskies a 32-24 lead. Connecticut led 37-27 at halftime and slowly pulled away in the
second period. A fast-break layup by Brown gave the Huskies a 47-31
lead at 15:09 and the Cats never got closer than 10 the rest of the