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NCAA - South

Big two take over for Huskies

©Associated Press
March 23, 2003

SPOKANE, Wash. -- At halftime, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun challenged his two best players to be more aggressive. Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor answered the call and sent the Huskies to the South Region semifinals.

Gordon scored 18 of his 29 points in the second half and Okafor dominated in offensive rebounding to lead No. 5 seed Connecticut over No. 4 Stanford 85-74 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."

Gordon, UConn's leading scorer in the regular season at 19.5 points a game, shot 8-for-14 and made all nine free-throw attempts. Okafor had 18 points and 15 rebounds, including six offensive boards in the second half.

Calhoun yelled at Gordon for 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-pointer 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," said Gordon, who hit 4-of-5 on 3-pointers. "Sometimes I need to be more selfish and take the shot."

Julius Barnes scored 23 and Justin Davis bounced back from a scoreless opener to score 21 for Stanford (24-9).

Trailing 54-51, UConn went on a 14-4 run highlighted by Tony Robertson's alley-oop dunk off a 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 (141 in the regular season).

"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.

The Cardinal relied on outside shooting and the strategy worked in the first half with seven 3-pointers. But Stanford shot 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.

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