Okafor tweaks shoulder, plays sparingly

PHOENIX (AP) -- The NCAA tournament is bringing out the best in


And the Huskies at their best are breathtaking.

Ben Gordon scored 36 points -- one shy of his career high -- and

Rashad Anderson added a career-best 28 -- in the Huskies' 87-71 romp

over Alabama on Saturday in the Phoenix Regional final.

A flurry of blocked shots, a dazzling display of long shots, and

the upstart Crimson Tide had no shot against an assemblage of UConn

talent coming together when it matters most.

Anderson made six of nine 3-pointers and Gordon was 4-for-7.

Gordon, the regional MVP, was also 10-for-11 at the foul line.

"Both of us have never shot that well in any one game this

year," Gordon said. "I think the man upstairs just gave us the

talent to do that today."

Connecticut, the preseason pick for No. 1, plays the winner of

Sunday's Duke-Xavier game in the Final Four next Saturday in San


"It's going to take a great game to beat them," Alabama coach

Mark Gottfried said. "They've just got so many weapons."

Second-seeded 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.

Coach Jim Calhoun called the first 20 minutes "probably as good

a basketball as we could possibly play."

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. A hard foul by Alabama's

Jermareo Davidson gave Okafor an elbow stinger 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 arm was feeling after the game.

UConn playmaker Taliek Brown scored just three points but had 10


"We've had some times where the mantle of expectations weighed

heavily upon us," Calhoun said. "As the season started to close

down and we saw our window of opportunity become more limited, we

kicked the window out and became a terrific, terrific basketball


The eighth-seeded Crimson Tide (20-13) stunned top-seeded

Stanford and beat defending national champion Syracuse to reach a

regional final for the first time. 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


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 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 went through Phoenix, where UConn won the West

Regional en route to the 1999 national championship.

Anderson sank two 3-pointers and Gordon one in the late

first-half run that put UConn in control for good.

"I had a chance to sit around and watch them play all season,

and I've never seen them shoot the ball like that and work the

inside-outside like they were," Davis said of the Huskies. "I

think they made their first seven 3s. They came out ready to


The pair outscored the entire 'Bama team 40-29 in the first 20


UConn made 9-of-11 3-pointers in the first half, with Anderson

going 6-for-6 for 22 points, four shy of his career best for an

entire game.

"I was really in a zone. I felt like both of us were,"

Anderson said. "Before I even came off the pick, I felt like the

shot was in."

Gordon, meanwhile, took just eight shots, made five of them, was

3-for-4 on 3s and had 18 first-half points.

Calhoun took Anderson out after his 3 with 17 seconds to go

punctuated the outburst, and the sharpshooter could only shake his

head from side to side as if he couldn't quite believe what he'd


Okafor swatted away shots inside early, with three blocks in

about a 20-second span.

The junior sank a rebound bank shot with 9:19 to play to put

UConn up 28-15, and was clobbered by Davidson.

Okafor hurt his arm on the play, and his subsequent free throw

didn't reach the rim. He came out of the game, stretched on the

sidelines, flexing his hand, then returned 1:02 later.

Davis' three-point play, on a foul by Okafor, and Winston's

5-foot floater in traffic had cut the lead to 33-25 with 5:20 left

in the half.

But Gordon rebounded his own shot for a score, then was fouled

by Winston on a 3-pointer. His three free throws made it 38-25 with

4:13 left before half and UConn's big run was on.

The Huskies have won their last 10 games with Anderson in the

starting lineup. Calhoun made him a starter against St. John's on

Feb. 24.

Since then, the only game Anderson didn't start, UConn lost at

Syracuse in its regular-season finale.

When it was over, there wasn't much celebration. The players

climbed the ladder to take turns cutting down the net, but it was

all done calmly as if a gigantic load had been lifted from them.

"It would have been incredibly disappointing if we didn't get

to a Final Four with this group," Calhoun said. "This is as good

a group of kids as I've ever been around. They're incredibly

talented. I don't know if it's the best team I've ever had, but I

can tell you this much, they're incredible people to be around."