HARTFORD, CT (February 19, 2003) Senior Tony Robertson (E. Providence, RI) scored a career-high 24 points to pace 24th-ranked Connecticut to its highest scoring BIG EAST effort of the year, an 87-70 victory over Rutgers on Wednesday night before a crowd of 15,499 at the Hartford Civic Center.
The win improves the Huskies record to 16-6, 7-4 in the conference. The Scarlet Knights drop to 11-12, 2-8 in BIG EAST play.
The Huskies were spurred in the victory with excellent free throw shooting and solid rebounding. UConn shot a sizzling 96.2% (25 of 26) from the charity stripe and enjoyed a healthy 48-34 rebounding advantage paced by sophomore Emeka Okafor (Houston, TX), who snared 10, part of his 15th double-double effort of the campaign.
Connecticut took control of the game early in the second half, improving on a 41-35 lead at intermission. Freshman Denham Brown (Toronto, ON) hit a three-pointer to cap an 8-2 run to open the second half, forcing Rutgers head coach Gary Waters to call a timeout. The Scarlet Knights were able to get within 10 points only twice the rest of the game.
Robertson, who was a perfect 13 of 13 from the foul line, paced a balanced offensive attack. Sophomore Ben Gordon (Mt. Vernon, NY) scored 20, while Okafor and Brown each scored 15 points. Freshman forward Marcus White (Chicago, IL) gave the Huskies a huge lift off the bench, contributing four points and seven rebounds. Okafor added six blocks to his double-double performance. Gordon led the Huskies with four assists.
Herve Lamizana paced Rutgers with 20 points and five assists.
UConn will return to the hardwood on Saturday, February 22, when they entertain league foe St. Johns at the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. Tip-off is set for 2:00 p.m. and the game will be televised by CBS.
UConn Interim Head Coach George Blaney
I was really pleased with the way we came out early in the game and we said that we wanted to push the ball up the court, we wanted Tony and Ben to be very aggressive and try to run the break as often as we could and then get into what we call our secondary break. We didnt do a good job of that in the first half, we did a real good job of our primary break about pushing it and getting it there, and then I thought in the second half, I thought we did a really good job of executing.
We pushed the ball, we got into secondary break we got baskets out of the secondary break we moved the ball very well, Ben, again organized us exceptionally well, got us into things.
Tony was terrific about, again putting pressure on people and taking it at people. He was getting fouled a number of times and the go to the line and make 13 out of 13, thats really good offense.
We were able to get the ball to Emeka a number of times and even with his missing a couple of layups, he still had 15 and 10 rebounds.
I thought Denham Brown gave us an outstanding game. He was very sharp, showed up open shots when he needed to and played excellent defense.
Both Denham and Tony, in particular and Rashad Anderson played really good defense on Shields and Coleman and kept them in check and played them pretty much the way we wanted.
Mike Hayes came off the bench and gave us a good lift, as did Shamon Tooles. Shamon did a good job on Lamizana in the short time that he played him. And Marcus White came in and got 7 rebounds.
All in all I was pleased we had the game in hand and really got careless at the end, to Rutgers credit they hung in and played tough, stole the ball a number of times and didnt allow us to keep it going forward.
As long as we take care of the ball we can beat anybody because weve been defending lately.
On being a senior: I know the end is coming, but Im just trying to play every game hard until it is over.
On amount of ball-handling he did tonight: I was just trying to get us in a good offense and just run a play every time down the court and just not go wild. We cant fast break every time so you have to execute in the half court.
On the play of Rutgers: To me it seemed like they were trying to come in here and steal a win. It didnt seem like they were trying to come in here and take the win. They were trying to catch us on a night where we were doing the things we were doing before when we lose. Thats the Connecticut team that they were looking for tonight
and that wasnt the case. So I think thats why we won the game.
You cant have as many mental errors as we had against Villanova. Most of the turnovers we had, if you watched, were unforced and could have been easily avoided. This game we just wanted to come out and be a lot tighter with the ball.
On lull at end of game: When you are tired you are not as sharp mentally like you are at the beginning of the game.
On Rutgers defense: They play real tight to their man, which allows them to be screened easily, so you just have to run your stuff. I think a lot of people get rattled by the pressure that they put out on the ball, but you just have to maintain your composure and run your stuff and youll get good shots all night.
On the play of Robertson: Tony did a great job. I thought he did great today, he converted when he got to the line and that really helped us down the stretch.
On knowing what it takes to win: I think we have known, it is just a question of what do we do with it now.
Like the loss at Villanova, it was disappointing, but it wasnt that bad because we knew we did everything right except take care of the ball. Today we said we were going to take care of the ball and thats what we did.
On inside and outside game: It is kind of like the chicken and the egg thing. When the outside shots are falling, the inside opens up. When the inside is doing really well the outside opens up
but as far as which ones come first
it is just a matter of what one gets sparked first.
It really encouraged us
and going into the St. Johns game Saturday we were able to build our confidence going in.
I was just trying to look for my shots out there
sometimes it doesnt drop, but sometimes like tonight I got a little confidence out on the 3pt line and I just started shooting it more.
Rutgers is known as one of the better defensive teams, and the way they hustle and they are scrappy
the fact that we were able to control what they did defensively
(a lot of credit) goes to our guards.
It was a confidence boost, the coaches trusted me to handle the ball out there, it builds my confidence to perform well for the team and for myself.
Rutgers Head Coach Gary Waters
That was a tough game down in that second half. I thought our kids played hard in the first half, but youve got to make some shots in college basketball. You really do. Im looking at everyones star player, their go to player, and they hit shots. We have to start hitting some shots. We just dont hit shots. We defend the heck out of people. They shot 42 percent. We defend the heck out of everybody we play. We just cant hit any shots.
I thought Herve had a good game inside, but Herve cant be a one man show. And he was on one leg doing that.
The one I thought had a better game today was Mike Sherrod. He came out and attacked. But our scorers have got to score. Until we do that we will struggle in many games.
On UConn rebounding
The other thing that I thought killed us they banged the boards pretty hard today. We didnt have an answer for that. They kept it like it was a ping pong ball out there.
On scorers not taking enough
You ever see shooters not shoot? Ive never in my life seen that. I was a shooter in college so I understand. You find a way to shoot the basketball. Were setting plays for them, were setting sets. I told them in the locker room, one of the hardest things for a coach is to set up a set for you, and then you come off and we dont hit the shot or we dont take the shot. I dont know. I dont know. Part of the thing that happened to today was that we were getting it inside. But again, you get it inside and not only do you maybe miss a shot Herve did a decent job but you get fouled and cant make the free throws.
Our problem this entire season has been offense, not defense.
On UConn free throws
We were right there until at the foul line constantly free throws, constant free throws. They did a great job hitting their free throws. They were 25 of 26. I thought that was the key.
On beginning of second half
We told them at halftime that one of their strengths is coming out in that first five minutes and really putting teams away to get their lead at home. We knew that. And I tried to prepare them for it.