Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Okafor, UConn beats Syracuse

By Donna Tommelleo
The Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. - Emeka Okafor had another big game in the post for Connecticut. And this time, he had plenty of help.

Okafor had 15 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots Monday night as the 23rd-ranked Huskies beat No. 17 Syracuse 75-61 with balanced scoring and solid defense. Freshmen power forwards Hilton Armstrong and Marcus White combined for 15 points and 15 rebounds.

"Emeka's only one man, he can't do everything by himself," Armstrong said. "We've got to try to help him out."

The Huskies (15-5, 6-3 Big East) won their second straight since losing two in a row by more than 20 points. They improved to 2-1 without coach Jim Calhoun, who was released from the hospital Sunday, three days after having surgery to remove a cancerous prostate. They also won their second game without starting point guard Taliek Brown, who will be out four-to-six weeks with a broken finger.

"We just got it done," Okafor said of the Huskies' first win over a ranked team this season. "Coach is out, Taliek is out. This shows what we can do, and we're doing it at a good time. The Big Chief is out, but we're holding down the fort."

Ben Gordon ran a sure and steady point in Brown's place. He finished with 11 points, well below his 20.6 average. He also appreciated the balanced attack.

"I don't have to score 25 every night," Gordon said. "If we play like that, I could just get the team in the offense and we'll be fine."

Freshman Carmelo Anthony matched his career high with 29 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Orangemen (16-4, 7-3), who had won three straight and five of six.

"Their defense was tough, they denied us and tried to take the lane, but we missed shots we usually make," said Anthony, who was 9-for-25 from the field and scored 12 of his 17 second-half points after getting an offensive rebound.

"At the beginning of the game, Coach said we had to hit the offensive boards, and that wasn't easy because they had some big guys in there," Anthony said.

Connecticut spread its offense, as seven of its eight players scored at least seven points. Meanwhile, Syracuse was pretty much limited to converting offensive rebounds for points. That's where Anthony dominated. Seven of his rebounds were on the offensive boards and UConn had few answers for him.

"He's a 6-7, 6-8 guard. He can post up, he can rebound, he can shoot off the dribble," Gordon said. "When he can do that many things, it's almost impossible to guard him."

The Orangemen, who entered third in the league in scoring (81.1) and second in field-goal percentage (48.8), were 20-for-67 from the field (29.9 percent), including 8-for-37 in the second half. They also finished 2-for-17 from 3-point range.

"The way we played on offense, we were fortunate to be in the game. We just didn't get anything in the basket," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "If we would have made a couple of shots, the game goes down to the wire."

Syracuse's first 17 points of the second half came on free throws, and its first field goal was accidentally put in by Okafor as he tried to grab a rebound.

The first field goal for the Orangemen came on an alley-oop to Hakim Warrick with 11:05 to play, and it pulled them to 50-44. They made it 50-46 just over a minute later on a layup by Kueth Duany, but the Huskies went on a 13-5 run that featured a short jumper by Gordon, the first field goal of the half for the Huskies' leading scorer.

Rashad Anderson had 13 points for Connecticut, which had lost three of its last four against Syracuse.

"We can be that kind of team when guys get in their rhythm, we can share the wealth and have everyone contribute," Gordon said.

Warrick and Duany each had 12 points for Syracuse, which finished with a 41-38 rebounding advantage, including 21-11 on the offensive end.

Connecticut associate head coach George Blaney, who's filling in for Calhoun, praised his team and then added that this could be a very big win as the regular season winds down.

"I couldn't be more pleased with the toughness, the quickness and execution of Jim Calhoun's team," Blaney said. "To hold them to 29 percent and play the kind of game we played, there are usually three or four defining moments in a season, and I hope this is one of them."

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