NEW YORK (Friday, March 8, 2002) Caron Butler (So., Racine, WI) had 20 points, becoming the 33rd player in school history to reach 1,000 points during his career, and Ben Gordon (Fr., Mount Vernon, NY) added 19 to help the Connecticut mens basketball team (19th AP/24th ESPN/USA Today) earn a spot in the 2002 ConAgra Foods BIG EAST Championship game by beating Notre Dame, 82-77, Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
The win was UConns eighth straight and gave the Huskies a 23-6 overall record, while Notre Dame fell to 21-10. They will face Pittsburgh at 8 p.m. on Saturday night. The Panthers made their way to the title game in Fridays first semifinal game as they dismissed Miami, 76-71.
The lead changed hands 14 times, and the game was tied on nine occasions before Notre Dame went cold for a stretch of 5:56 seconds in the middle of the second half during which the Irish missed eight straight shots. UConns Johnnie Selvie (Sr., Flint, MI) capped the stretch when his slam dunk with 6:31 remaining made it 69-59.
Gordon gave UConn its largest lead, 74-63, with a three at the 3:51 mark. From there, Notre Dame nailed back-to-back threes of its own, and Chris Thomas kept the Irish close with 11 of his team-leading 24 points in the final 2:47 of play.
The first half was a seesaw affair, but UConn used a pressure defense to force 11 Notre Dame turnovers, two off their season average. With 1:12 to go before the break, Butler hit on a three-pointer that put him at 1,000 for his career, making him the third-fastest player in school history to reach the mark. Butler finished the first half with 13 en route to a 41-36 UConn halftime lead.
On Saturday night, UConn will be looking for its fifth BIG EAST tournament title in school history when it faces Pittsburgh who is making its second appearance in the final game in as many years. The Huskies won the championship for the first time in 1990 before going on to do so again in 1996, 1998 and 1999.