Saturday, March 27, 2004
» Box Score
By BOB BAUM, AP Sports Writer
PHOENIX (AP) -- That powerhouse Connecticut team everyone talked about six months ago is two wins from living up to expectations.
A flurry of blocked shots, a dazzling display of long shots, and upstart Alabama had no shot against an assemblage of UConn talent coming together when it matters most.
Ben Gordon scored 36 points -- one shy of his career high -- and Rashad Anderson added a career-best 28 -- in the Huskies' 87-71 victory over the Crimson Tide on Saturday in the Phoenix Regional final.
Connecticut plays the winner of Sunday's Duke-Xavier game in the national semifinals next Saturday in San Antonio.
UConn (31-6) used a 17-4 outburst over the final five minutes of the first half to go up 53-29 and 'Bama never got closer than 14 after that.
Connecticut's All-America center Emeka Okafor played only 19 minutes and scored just two points, but had nine rebounds and blocked five shots, all in the first half. He hurt his right shoulder on a hard foul by Alabama's Jermareo Davidson with 9:19 left in the first half.
Okafor left briefly, returned to finish the half and started the second half. But he sat down for good with 16:32 to play and UConn leading 59-36.
``Just a little tingle. Nothing too serious,'' Okafor said when asked how his shoulder was feeling after the game.
The Crimson Tide (20-13) stunned top-seeded Stanford and beat defending national champion Syracuse to reach a regional final for the first time in the school history. But UConn's combination of size, quickness and uncanny accuracy was too much, especially over that five-minute onslaught.
Chuck Davis scored a career-best 24 points for Alabama, and Kennedy Winston 21. But Earnest Shelton managed just 10 on 3-for-11 shooting and floor leader Antoine Pettway was 0-for-2 with just one point.
UConn's Josh Boone missed four consecutive free throws as Alabama cut the lead to 76-62 on Davis' two free throws with 4:39 to play. Gordon, the regional MVP, followed with a 10-footer, and Alabama never got closer than 14 again.
The Huskies advanced to the Final Four for the second time. The first run also came through Phoenix, where UConn won the West Regional en route to the 1999 national championship.