Okafor Helps UConn to Satisfying Win Over Syracuse



    HARTFORD, CT (February 10, 2003) -- Sophomore center Emeka Okafor (Houston, TX) notched his 13th double-double of the season with 15 points and 12 rebounds to pace a balanced attack as 19th-ranked Connecticut defeated 18th-ranked Syracuse 75-61 before a raucous sellout crowd of 16,294 Monday evening at the Hartford Civic Center.

    The win improves the Huskies’ record to 15-5, 6-3 in the BIG EAST. The Orangemen slip to 16-4, 7-3 in conference play.

    UConn led 30-27 at the half and were within four at 53-49 with 8:07 to play. However, the Huskies used a 6-0 run keyed by a three-pointer by Denham Brown (Toronto, ON) and capped by a tip-in by Okafor gave UConn a stranglehold on the contest. The Huskies followed that run later in the half with a 10-2 run over 2:32 to clinch the win.

    Okafor was solid throughout, hitting five of nine from the field and yanking down his 14th double figure rebounding effort of the season. He also added six blocks and dished out four assists. He had plenty of company in double figures as three teammates scored at least 10 points. Freshman guard Rashad Anderson (Lakeland, FL) came of the bench to score 13, including three of seven from beyond the arc. Sophomore Ben Gordon (Mt. Vernon, NY) added 11 and Brown finished with 10. UConn received excellent play from the power forward spot as freshmen Hilton Armstrong (Peekskill, NY) and Marcus White (Chicago, IL) combined for 15 points and 15 rebounds.

    The UConn defense set the tone for the evening by holding Syracuse to just 30% shooting, including a chilly 22% (8 of 37) after intermission. They were able to get their transition game into gear, outscoring the Orange 19-4 on the fast break.

    Freshman Carmelo Anthony was terrific for Syracuse, scoring a game-high 29 points and grabbing a team-high 11 rebounds.

    This was the third game the Huskies’ played without head coach Jim Calhoun, who is out three to four weeks recuperating from surgery.

    The Huskies take to the road next for a huge BIG EAST East Division tilt at Villanova on Saturday, February 15, 2003. Tip-off is set for noon and the game will be televised locally by WTXX- TV 20.


    UConn Interim Head Coach George Blaney
    I couldn’t be more pleased with the toughness, the quickness and the execution of Jim Calhoun’s basketball team. It started with Ben Gordon who just organized us all night. It kept us in whatever it is that we were calling and he made the rest of them execute. We got a little careless a couple of times. I thought we got a little hesitant towards the end of the first half, but outside of that I thought we played great offense and I thought that was as much a key as our defensive play. They had 29% for the game, so obviously we played terrific defense, but I do think it was our offensive execution that allowed us to do that.

    I always think seasons have defining moments, and there’s usually 3 or 4 defining moments and I’m hoping this is one of them

    On play at the four spot
    To get 8 points, 7 rebounds from Hilton Armstrong and 7 points, 8 rebounds from Marcus White at the four spot – two freshmen getting about 36 or 37 minutes, and getting 15 and 15 out of that position – is awesome. I told Billy Raftery before the game, he said “Tell me about Marcus White.” I said “Billy, when we were back in Jersey City playing, he would be the guy that you and I would pick. We’d say ‘OK, I’ve got Marcus and let’s go play.’” He doesn’t know how to play structure yet, but he’s an incredible competitor, he’s got a live body and he’s got great, great hands. He did a really good job.

    On Gordon and Robertson
    I thought the two guards – Ben Gordon and Tony Robertson – played terrific defense. Tony holding McNamara to three and Ben holding Duany to 4 for 13. I thought that was as much of a key as anything.

    On Emeka Okafor
    Obviously, you’ve got to talk about the big fella who’s back where he belongs, being, if not the most dominant center in the country, one of the most dominant centers in the country. Emeka Okafor was awesome and was able to pressure the ball when either Forth or McNeil had it and then was able to come off and help, block shots and get rebounds.

    On conversation with Jim Calhoun after the game
    We all talked to Jim again after the game. He was really excited. He’s feeling good. He’s on the treadmill, by the way, if you can believe that.

    On Carmelo Anthony
    He’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Caron in a while. He does a little bit of everything. He can shoot outside, he can put in on the floor and get to the rim, he’s strong enough to kind of bully you a little bit and get his own shot, and he’s a great offensive rebounder, which Caron was. That’s what makes him so hard to defend – you come over and help on him or you come over and help off him sometimes and he’s right there to get the offensive rebound. I thought Denham did a pretty good job on him, but I really thought Shamon played him for seven or eight minutes at a critical time in the game where he, somewhat, denied the ball to him. He kind of pushed him out of his comfort zone a little bit and really did a better job on him. 29 points is a lot of points, 9 for 25, though, is a little expensive.

    Tony Robertson
    It was definitely a big win. If we can beat teams of this caliber – Syracuse has been playing really well – it will be a good confidence builder for the rest of the games we have coming up.

    Keys to tonight’s game
    I think we really played good defense. We held McNamara to 3 points and he usually averages around 15. And Duanhy didn’t shoot the ball too well, and he’s a pretty good scorer for them. I think taking those two guys out of the game was a big loss for them.

    Everybody was doing different things. Marcus came off the bench grabbing rebounds, making the other team foul him. And Hilton was doing the same thing. It was a team effort, and that’s what we need every night from everyone.

    Ben Gordon
    We played great defense in the 2nd half and I think that’s what pulled the game out for us.

    On the energy Marcus White gave you off the bench
    That’s the energy Marcus White gives us every night, and in practice, and all the time. That’s what we expect of him.

    On only scoring 11 and still winning
    It shows we’re a deep team. I think there could have been a lot more games like this where I only scored 10 or 12 and we still come out on top with the victory. We just have those type of players.

    Key to the 2nd half
    It was definitely our defensive intensity. We came out in the 1st half with great defense and in the 2nd half almost doubled it and that helped us win the game. When we play good defense it helps us rebound, starts our fast break, and it gives us more confidence at the other end. And it takes away the other teams confidence, in turn.

    On Carmelo Anthony
    He reminds me a lot of Caron. He’s a 6’7” – 6’8” guard. He can post up. He can rebound. He can shoot. And he can go off the dribble. When he can do that many things, it’s almost impossible to guard him.

    Shamon Tooles
    What was the difference tonight
    I think we’re starting to play like Connecticut again. We won games earlier this year where we didn’t play like Connecticut. We’re starting to play Connecticut basketball again and I think that’s very important.

    Emeka Okafor
    Key to the game?
    Everybody doing their part. Everybody focusing on what they have to do, us just meshing as a team, and us playing great defense.

    Difference between losing streak and tonight
    I think it’s just intensity. We knew that we had to get it done. We didn’t even want to think about the negative side of it. We put it in our minds to play hard every single play – play the whole 40 minutes – and we knew we would win the game.

    Denham Brown
    On the freshman
    A lot of the guys feel good about themselves and about the way that they’re playing coming out of Providence…it really boosted their confidence and their mindset to become a player in the game.

    Marcus White
    On gaining confidence
    In high school, I played the whole game. I’m just trying to get my feel for the college game.

    On the tip-in
    I saw an opening. It looked real wide, like a tunnel, and I just ran through it.

    On missing a few foul shots
    I couldn’t tell you what it was. There was a lid on the basket a few times.

    On playing before the raucous crowd
    I love the crowd. I love the UConn crowd. We have the best fans in the nation.

    Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim
    We could get nothing going on offense except for Carmelo (Anthony) and you can’t live with one guy. We just couldn’t get anyone else going. The way we played on offense, we were fortunate to be in the game. We gave two buckets at the end of the first half on turnovers which you can’t do on the road.

    When it is a 10 point you’ve got to pressure, and we know they are good against the pressure.

    We’ve been playing better offensively and tonight we just didn’t get anything in the basket.

    On Carmelo Anthony: They made it hard for him, but he had 29, so I guess they didn’t make it too hard for him. Everyone this year has made it hard for him, I don’t think anybody is going to say ‘ go ahead and score’ . It is going to be very hard for him, they are going to double and help. And he had 29…I don’t think he was the problem.

    On Connecticut’s defense: We just didn’t make shots…you’ve got to make some. If we had made some shots the game goes down to the wire….we might lose, but they are a good team and I think they played well. They are a pretty good defensive team…but we got our opportunities.

    Our centers struggled tremendously.

    On Connecticut: They are just better, they finish better, they are much better players. We didn’t want to press them. That was the only hope left.

    I’m happy with our defense, that was not our problem.

    On if he has spoken to Coach Calhoun: I haven’t talked to him since his operation.