V-RECAPS | NCAA Tournament — Final Four | Saturday, April 3
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Connecticut 79, Duke 78
What a sensational pair of Final Four games, capped by Connecticut's amazing comeback in the second semifinal. The Huskies went on a late 12-0 run to overcome Duke's 75-67 lead with less than three minutes to go. UConn made six big defensive stops to make the run happen.
UConn junior center Emeka Okafor picked up two quick fouls early and sat the final 16 minutes of the first half. But Okafor made up for it in the second half, when he scored all 18 of his points (shooting 7-of-9 from the floor overall). He really wanted the ball at crunch time and scored some big baskets down the stretch.
Okafor had a major mismatch inside, an M&Mer, once Duke super sophs Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph fouled out late in the game. In fact, three Duke big men fouled out, as reserve senior forward Nick Horvath picked up his fifth foul (in just eight minutes) with three seconds left, putting Okafor on the line for two free throws with UConn leading 78-75.
|UConn guard Ben Gordon is projected by most observers as a lottery pick.|
Okafor missed the first but made the second -- so the Huskies had no worries when Duke senior guard Chris Duhon banked in a long trifecta as time expired. A back ailment slowed Okafor at times this season, but when he's healthy, Connecticut is a special team. UConn got the No. 2 seed in the Phoenix Region, but they've sure looked like a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, baby!
Duke, the No. 1 seed in the Atlanta Region, didn't manage the clock well and didn't take good shots down the stretch -- especially two bad jumpers (with the lead) late in the game when it would have been better to milk the clock.
The Blue Devils didn't play the way you expect a Duke team to play in that situation.
Junior guard/forward Rashad Anderson started UConn's 12-0 run by hitting a huge 3-pointer with 2:40 left to cut the deficit to 75-70. Anderson scored 14 points, shooting 3-of-5 from 3-point range (attempting no 2-pointers) and hitting all five of his free throws. Junior guard Ben Gordon scored 18 points and made 7-of-8 free throws. And freshman Josh Boone was tenacious on the glass, grabbing 14 rebounds.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has won three national titles at Duke, was trying to tie the legendary Dean Smith for the most NCAA Tournament wins by a coach (65). But he'll have to wait till next year. Now UConn's Jim Calhoun will try to become the 11th coach to win at least two national titles. His (and UConn's) first came in 1999 against -- that's right, baby -- Duke!
The Georgia Tech-Connecticut national title game will be a rematch. These teams faced off in November in the Preseason NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden, with Georgia Tech coming away with a surprising 77-61 win over top-ranked UConn. Okafor wasn't 100 percent healthy in that game but still played 34 minutes (shooting 2-of-10 from the field and 5-of-12 from the line).
That win gave the Yellow Jackets an identity -- and the confidence that they could play with the big-time teams, which they did all season. In fact, they're the only team in America to beat both UConn and Duke this season.
But I picked UConn as the preseason No. 1, and I really believe there will be a celebration on the UConn campus in Storrs, Conn., like you've never seen with both the men and the women winning the national title this year.
Editor's TV Note -- The UConn women face Minnesota on Sunday night in the Final Four (ESPN, 9:30 p.m. ET), following the Tennessee-LSU game in the first women's semifinal (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). The women's national-championship game is also on ESPN on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET).
Georgia Tech 67, Oklahoma State 65
Wow, after three amazing games in the regional finals last week, it's incredible that we saw such a fantastic finish in the Georgia Tech-Oklahoma State national semifinal.
In the end, junior guard Will Bynum won it for Georgia Tech on a gutsy game-winning drive. His quickness and penetration ability made all the difference in the closing seconds.
Ironically, Bynum was supposed to transfer to Oklahoma State (from Arizona). But the Cowboys didn't have a scholarship available, so he wound up transferring to Georgia Tech. What an incredible turn of events and what an awesome finish!
|Georgia Tech guard Will Bynum had his game face on and came through when it counted.|
Oklahoma State, the No. 2 seed in the East Rutherford Region, faced double-digit deficits in both the first and second halves.
But the Cowboys battled back to a 65-65 tie on junior guard John Lucas' big 3-pointer with 25 seconds left. It looked like the game would go to overtime, but the Yellow Jackets pulled it out in regulation on Bynum's tough layup.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt did a great job managing his timeouts to stem the tide when Oklahoma State surged. When the Cowboys tied the game, Hewitt had enough confidence in Bynum to get the job done -- and he did.
Georgia Tech, the No. 3 seed in the St. Louis Region, got a double-double performance from 7-foot-1 junior center Luke Schenscher (12 rebounds and 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting). Schenscher got the ball down low in great position often, and the Cowboys didn't have an answer for him.
Tech senior guard Marvin Lewis opened the game on fire from long range, hitting five trifectas in the first half. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State senior guard Tony Allen got in foul trouble, which certainly hurt the Cowboys' cause. Plus, Lucas had a really slow start, scoring only two points in the first 31-plus minutes (he finished with 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting).
So Georgia Tech advances to play Connecticut its first national championship game. What an amazing run for a team that had a 9-7 regular-season record in the ACC. Remember, Georgia Tech was picked seventh in the ACC's preseason conference poll.
Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979 (he's been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.