WASHINGTON -- Most of the sellout crowd was roaring, hoping
for a chance to see for themselves a repeat of the celebration that
became a TV highlight staple a year ago.
It was not an easy victory for the Huskies against Hampton. Steve Merfeld's team tried to duplicate last year's shock-city when they knocked of the No. 2 seed, Iowa State, in the opening round. The Big East tournament champs got solid performances from Caron Butler -- 29 points and nine rebounds -- and diaper dandy Emeka Okafor who had 15 rebounds, 12 points, five blocked shots and hit six of seven from the floor. Okafor is important and makes a difference because he changes opponents' shots and is a true Windex man on the glass.
No. 15-seeded Hampton was closing in on another No. 2, looking
to make Connecticut this season's Iowa State.
The Huskies, however, improved their defense over the final
three minutes and closed the game with a 7-0 run for a 78-67
victory Friday in the first round of the East Regional.
"First thing: If that's a 15, what's a 14 or a 13 look like?"
a very relieved Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "We had them
put away three, four times in the first half, but there was no quit
in them. I am unbelievably impressed with them.
"Down the stretch, I know everyone was rooting for David, but I
was pulling for Goliath."
Last year, the Pirates stunned Iowa State 58-57 to become just
the fourth 15th-seeded team to win a first-round game. The postgame
celebration, with coach Steve Merfeld swinging his arms and legs
wildly while being picked up from behind by a player, became one of
the most repeated film clips in NCAA Tournament history.
"We never felt we were going to lose that game, not before it,
not during it, not now," said Tommy Adams, who led the Pirates
with 23 points. "It's tough dealing with the loss, but Connecticut
made stops when they had to."
Against Big East champion Connecticut (25-6), Hampton got within
four points three times in the second half.
The last time the Pirates (26-7) were that close was 71-67 with
3:08 to play on a dunk by Adams after a Connecticut turnover.
Most of the crowd of 17,725 was cheering for the Pirates to pull
off a major upset for the second straight year.
No fans were cheering harder for the Pirates than those from
North Carolina State, which would face the winner of the game in
the second round Sunday. The seventh-seeded Wolfpack beat Michigan
But the Huskies won their 10th straight game overall and made
Calhoun 10-0 in NCAA first-round games by shutting down Hampton on
its final five possessions.
"We got stops when we needed them at the end," said Caron
Butler, who led the Huskies with 21 points. "Hopefully we won't
face a team like that again."
Johnnie Selvie added 13 points and 11 rebounds for Connecticut,
while Emeka Okafor had 12 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked
shots. The Huskies finished with a 43-34 rebounding advantage over
the Pirates, who played at least three guards at a time.
"They are such a tough matchup," Calhoun said, "especially
when they go four guards and make you play everybody 1-on-1."
Adams, the player of the year in the Mid-Eastern Athletic
Conference, led the Pirates with 23 points, while Isaac Jefferson
had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
"We could never get over the hump, because they kept making
plays down the stretch," Merfeld said. "We put ourselves in too
much of a deficit in the first half."
Merfeld was asked if he thought about last season's win over
Iowa State when the Pirates got within four points of Connecticut.
"That never entered my mind," he said.
Connecticut -- 7-1 in the MCI Center, including 3-1 this season --
led 46-35 at halftime after shooting 58.6 percent (17-for-29).
Hampton was back in the game in a hurry, getting within 53-49 on
Adams' 3-pointer with 14:58 to play.
The Pirates struggled from long range in the first half, going
4-for-11 on 3s, but made five of their first nine from beyond the
arc in the second half.
David Johnson, the player who carried Merfeld off the court last
season, had nine points, including an impressive dunk in the second
"We came out here to perform, to give people their money's
worth," Johnson said. "I don't think anyone went home
disappointed but us in this locker room."