UConn Slips Past Stanford
March 22, 2003
By JOSH DUBOW
AP Sports Writer
SPOKANE, Wash. - Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun challenged his two best players at halftime to be more aggressive. Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor answered the call and sent the Huskies to the round of 16.
Gordon scored 18 of his 29 points in the second half, and Okafor dominated the offensive glass to lead fifth-seeded Connecticut to an 85-74 victory over No. 4 Stanford in the South Regional on Saturday.
'We told Emeka, 'They're not taking the ball to you so you need to do something else, like rebound and score,'' Calhoun said. 'I told Ben that he needed to take over offensively. I challenged him to get the ball in his hands and take over.'
Gordon, held to 14 points in a poor-shooting opening win over BYU, shot 8-for-14 and made all nine of his free-throw attempts. Okafor had 18 points and 15 rebounds, including six offensive boards in the second half.
Calhoun yelled at Gordon for his passive perimeter defense in the first half, sending him to the bench with a light shove.
Early in the second half, Gordon passed up an open 3 and turned the ball over on a pass inside. Calhoun made a shooting motion toward Gordon.
'Sometimes I get caught up trying to make my teammates better,' Gordon said. 'Sometimes I need to be more selfish and take the shot.'
Julius Barnes scored 23 points, and Justin Davis bounced back from a scoreless opener to score 21 for Stanford (24-9).
The Huskies (23-9) advance to the South Regional in San Antonio, where they will play the Texas-Purdue winner on Friday.
Gordon is the latest in a line of talented wing players at UConn, following Donyell Marshall, Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton and Caron Butler, who left school early last year.
Calhoun has urged Gordon to be more selfish offensively, and he followed the advice at just the right moment, penetrating to the basket and hitting four of five 3-pointers.
'Last year, he couldn't respond to that,' Calhoun said. 'This year I told him he's one of the best guards in America. I'll be yelling at him next week to keep doing it. I told him he's good enough to score 39 next game.'
Trailing 54-51, UConn went on a 14-4 run highlighted by Tony Robertson's alley-oop dunk off a nice feed from Gordon. Okafor converted four offensive rebounds into baskets in the opening eight minutes of the second half.
Okafor had to go find the ball because Stanford wouldn't take it to the nation's leading shot blocker.
'Coach made a point of telling me I had zero offensive rebounds. If we wanted to win I had to be a major part of it,' Okafor said. 'I got a rebound and the first score, I got the second score and I realized this is working. So I kept doing it and doing it.'
The Cardinal relied on their outside shooting, and the strategy worked in the first half when they made seven 3-pointers. But they shot only 1-for-7 from long range in the second half.
'If we had continued to shoot the ball well, we could have stayed in there,' Stanford coach Mike Montgomery said.
Okafor blocked seven shots in the first round but had only one against Stanford - he rejected Josh Childress on a fast break with 6:34 to go to protect a six-point lead.
Rashad Anderson hit a 3-pointer to give the Huskies a 72-64 lead, and after Barnes missed a 3, Gordon came up with his most spectacular move of the game.
He took the ball inside and was blocked by Childress. He recovered the ball outside, took it back into the lane and scored on a double-pump scoop shot to put the Huskies up 10.
'I didn't expect my shot to get blocked. I just erased the memory right away,' Gordon said. 'I tried to go back down the lane and make something happen.'
Barnes hit four 3s in the first half as the Cardinal took a 44-40 lead. Barnes was held to seven points on five shots in the second half as the Huskies denied him the ball.
'They did a good job not letting me touch the ball,' he said. 'Whenever I passed it, I was denied the turn back.'