HARTFORD, CT (February 18, 2004) Emeka Okafor had his nations-best 16th double-double of the season and Taliek Brown dished out a career-high 13 assists as eighth-ranked Connecticut defeated Miami, 76-63, Wednesday evening, before a sellout crowd of 16,294 at the Hartford Civic Center.
The victory improves the UConn record to 20-5, 8-3 in BIG EAST play. The Hurricanes slip to 13-13, 3-9 in the conference. The victory marked the seventh consecutive season that the Huskies have reached the 20-win plateau. The win also marked the 14th time in his 18 seasons at UConn that head coach Jim Calhoun has led the Huskies to at least 20 victories. Including his time previously at Northeastern, Calhoun now has 19 20-win seasons in his illustrious career.
Okafor was the centerpiece of the UConn offense all evening, much as he has been this season. He scored 18 points on eight of 13 shooting from the field and grabbed a game-best 15 rebounds. It marked the 45th time in his UConn career he had a double-double, most in school history. His 15 boards was his second best total of the year (he had 16 at Rutgers), and he swatted away six Miami field goals. It marked the 13th time this year Okafor had blocked at least five opponent attempts. Rashad Anderson led the Huskies with 19 points, on the strength of five 3-pointers. It was his second best scoring effort of the campaign, behind his 26 points at Virginia Tech. He drilled three consecutive from long range over a minute and a half span midway through the second half to quell a Miami rally. Ben Gordon added 12 points, the 22nd time in 25 contests this year he has scored in double digits.
Brown now has 638 career helpers, good for second on the all-time UConn list. He trails leader Tate George (677) by 39 assists. He was the key reason that the slumbering UConn fast break awoke to register 21 points in transition. The Huskies shot 55% (27 of 49) from the field, the 12th time they shot better than 50% this year. They also made nine of 15 from beyond the arc.
Miami, playing without injured leading scorer Darius Rice, was paced by Guillermo Diaz and Armondo Surratt, who scored 14 and 12 points, respectively.
The Huskies will play at the Hartford Civic Center for the final time this season on Saturday, February 21, when they play host to Notre Dame. Tip-off is set for 2:00 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally by CBS.
POST GAME QUOTES
UConn Head Coach Jim Calhoun
I was nervous. I felt a sense of urgency. I thought in the first half, defensively, our kids were really, really good. We opened the second half and threw the ball away five times, just to make sure the coach got his blood pressure back up again as high as he possibly could. Maybe they thought I would collapse and they would have a relaxing night, but I was able to withstand it despite that. We went on to win our 20th game for the seventh game in a row, and they should be very proud of that.
Everybody says, Well, you could have lost that game. Yeah, when you let a team thats down 17 back to seven, I dont know if you could lose the game, because we still had enough time and enough talent, certainly, to win the game, but we put ourselves in a position that we didnt need to be in. We should have taken those moments with possession of the ball, 17 point lead, and we should have then boosted the thing up to 20, 25.
I felt a sense of urgency. I felt that we should have felt that sense of urgency as a team, that we should feel emotional as a team, that we knew we were a better team, that we could take advantage of them inside, that we could certainly do some things defensively. And we did. We did some of those things. We just had a bad six or seven minutes to open the second half.
I know I didnt show it all of the time, but I actually am happy. I just didnt think we put the thing away.
The only negative Ill say, I just wanted to see a little swagger. Maybe thats what the crowd feeds off of.
There are morgues that Ive coached in with a lot more noise.
Denham passed on three threes and I said That just cant happen. Thats why Rashad came in. It really was what Denham didnt do. So if you think it was some great coaching move I would like to take credit for that but I cant.
Hilton was the answer .He did a great job. Made the jumpshot early to get himself going. I was really proud of him. I was really happy for him. When you play two or three minutes, its really hard sometimes, but hes a kid that keeps working, had two great days in practice and we knew we were going to get him in there early. I didnt know he would play as long as he did, but I was really happy for him that he played so well.
It was a rough one today but we won. They seemed to linger, wed pull away, theyd come back. But they never quite got over that hump.
On Rashad Anderson
Thats Rashad, coming in at the crunch times. He just came in and gave us that quick burst of energy.
On Coach Calhoun
Coach was trying to inspire us, doing his thing on the sideline. You couldnt help looking over there and think Ive got to do more, Ive got to do more
On if the team seemed a step slow tonight
I think we did a decent job today. I think we had a better first half than second.
On if Coach Calhoun thinks they did a decent job
Uh, yeah, he eventually told us that.
We just wanted to come out tonight and have a big game we let 2 games get away from us on a 2 game losing streak. We needed this win as if it was the biggest game of the year for us. And we came out and got it.
Somebody needed to step up. We didnt have any scoring. Coach told me to make something happen and thats what I did. Fortunately they gave me the ball in great position and I delivered.
We take one game at a time from here on out, and well try to run the table. We know we can do it, we just have to put all of the pieces together.
Sometimes things happen in games and you just have to bounce back.
We just wanted to run good offense, dont force anything and thats what we came out to do. Towards the end of the first half and in the second half we just came out and ran our offense.
Is this a win that doesnt feel like a win?
A little bit. We played real solid, but we know we can do better. Were just happy we got our 20th win. Thats what were really celebrating and are really happy about.
In the first half we were playing our game executing and playing defense. But in the second half, we let up a little and thats when they came back a little. We just have to keep it gong for forty minutes.
On his career high 13 assists
I was just finding everybody early today. In the first half, I found some people early and that got me going a little. Then in the second half I just kept it up. I just had a lot of people hitting shots. Rashad was hitting shots. I was getting the ball to Emeka, Ben, and everybody was scoring from it.
Is there someone needed out there to grab the guys and really shake them up?
Yes, and I think thats me. I think I have to get everybody to come in everyday and work hard and keep it going. Ever since Ive been here, for four years, all our teams have been stepping up and getting better during this time, during the Big East, during the tournament. This is when we get better. We just have to get better. We cant back track. We have to keep going forward.
On coming out sluggish in the 2nd half and not putting Miami away
We probably took it for granted a little bit and werent aggressive enough. I think in the 2nd half we really let up. We werent as aggressive as we were in the 1st half. In the 1st half we were a little more aggressive. We played d. We were playing our style of play. In the 2nd half we let up a little. If were going to get better and move forward as a team, we cant do that.
Miami Head Coach Perry Clark
I thought in the first half Connecticut came out and locked in on (Guillermo) Diaz and (Robert) Hite and made it very difficult. I think between them they only made 2 field goals. With (Darius) Rice out we were really counting on them to step it up. In the second half we did a much better job of getting them going and getting into the flow. We took away a lot of Connecticuts second chance points. We went zone because we knew that they like to try to throw the ball in to Okafor he is awful tough. We cut it to 7 and I thought we were in pretty good position and then (Rashad) Anderson came in, hes from Florida, we recruited him, Ive seen him and he started throwing in 3s. I thought those 3s coming in in that position and I thought the moving screen on the baseline were critical plays and took away our momentum. Connecticut is a fine team. They understand that it is February and they have great aspirations. I think that coming down the stretch when things got tight they played like a veteran team and a team that knows what is on the line, so youve got to give them credit.
I thought we executed the things we wanted to about as well as we could. We got the people shots that we wanted to get shots, I thought we did a good job of trying to slow the game down and making them play defense as long as we could I thought Connecticut really worked defensively. As much as we were trying to run those guys off of the screens and move them around I thought they kept their concentration. I know they had to be tired. It seemed like (Ben) Gordon played the whole game every time I looked up, I dont even remember him being out. I thought Taliek (Brown) did a really good job on Rob (Hite) and for them to play with that energy on both ends of the court for as long as they did with our strategy trying to wear them down I thought they showed a lot of mental concentration as well as physical effort.
On Status of Darius Rice
We are going to take the cast off and basically see where it is. My medical knowledge is sub-par but my understanding is that he bruised some tendons in his upper arch. Weve got to let them calm down. If there is no pain and hes got movement then hell be able to go, if there is pain and he does not have full movement then he will not be able to play Saturday. They said a week to 10 days. In the past hes been a pretty quick healer so well just have to wait and see.
Our kids come out and they play hard. They play hard the whole game. They dont hang their head. They keep a really positive attitude. I still think were a pretty good ball club and we have a few more games to prove it.
I have so much respect for Ben Gordon and (Emeka) Okafor. Theyve answered the bell since theyve come in here. They are very fine players and they are great guys, they are ambassadors for the game off of the court. There are an awful lot of coaches who would like to have Jim (Calhoun)s team.