Ryan Gomes gets 26 points and 12 rebounds. Providence, however, makes its key run without him to triumph 66-56.
By Wire services
Published January 25, 2004
HARTFORD, Conn. - Providence is making a run at the Big East elite.
The Friars have followed last-second losses to No. 16 Texas and Rutgers by winning their next five, including Saturday's 66-56 upset of No. 4 Connecticut.
Ryan Gomes led the Friars with 26 points and 12 rebounds. And Providence passed UConn for first in the conference.
The Friars are 2-1 against ranked teams this season, including a 70-51 victory over Illinois on Dec. 9 in which Gomes had 24 points and 12 rebounds. They ended UConn's 19-game win streak at the Hartford Civic Center.
"It's a hard place to play," Providence coach Tim Welsh said. "You let this building get going, and all of a sudden, a one-point game turns into nine real quick and it gets out of hand."
UConn had few answers for Gomes, who scored both inside and out. The 6-foot-7 junior, who grew up in nearby Waterbury, scored 10 of the Friars' first 14 for a 14-8 lead.
"It's a good win for us, not just because I'm from Connecticut, but it was for first place in the Big East," Gomes said. "We just came in as if this was just another Big East game that we had to win."
UConn used different defenders on Gomes during the first half. But it wasn't until center Emeka Okafor drew the assignment permanently during the second half that Gomes cooled off somewhat.
Okafor, the only Husky in double figures, led UConn with 19 points and 13 rebounds. The Huskies shot 40.7 percent from the field, their second-lowest mark of the season. They shot 38 percent in the 77-61 loss to Georgia Tech on Nov. 26.
"(Gomes) has great footwork," Okafor said. "He'll try to bring you out on the perimeter. He'll try to exploit you."
The Huskies also were exploited by their soft defense and sloppy ball-handling. The Friars scored 11 off 16 UConn turnovers and outscored the Huskies 19-8 on transition baskets.
UConn coach Jim Calhoun said this loss will stay with him for the rest of the season.
"They executed down the stretch, and we did not make the tough plays defensively that we needed to," Calhoun said. "They outplayed us. They certainly deserved to win."
UConn guard Ben Gordon scored just nine, nine below his average. It was his first game since surgery Wednesday on his broken nose. Gordon, who committed a team-high five turnovers, played with a protective mask.
UConn trailed 35-29 at halftime but took a 49-48 lead on Rashad Anderson's 3-pointer with 8:56 left. Gomes picked up his fourth foul on the Huskies' next possession. Taliek Brown went 1-of-2 on the ensuing free throws to extend the lead to three, but it was the Huskies' last lead.
Without Gomes, the Friars went on a 9-2 run, fueled by two 3-pointers by Sheiku Kabba, and UConn did not recover.
"They just played with a lot of confidence even though I wasn't out there," Gomes said. "That's a good thing about this team. It doesn't rely on just one person."
Providence trails the series 38-23 but has won the past two against UConn.
"It's another quality win, which, hopefully, will impress people," Welsh said. "I learned long ago if you're in the top four in the Big East, you've got a chance to do something special in March."