Huskies defeat Georgia Tech 82-73
Tuesday, April 6, 2004
SAN ANTONIO -- The Connecticut Huskies really do have it all: the All-America center, the flashy guards, the coach who gets everything right, and now a national title won with ease.
Led by 24 points from Emeka Okafor and 21 from Ben Gordon, the Huskies outclassed Georgia Tech 82-73 on Monday night to win the championship many predicted they'd get from the very start of the season.
They looked like champions from beginning to end, running when they wanted, controlling the middle at other times, grabbing just about every loose ball and making the Yellow Jackets look ordinary.
UConn became the first team since the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats to win the title after being ranked first in the preseason. The Huskies wound up on top of the college basketball world, thanks to a tall, quick, deep and talented roster put together by Calhoun.
"Going wire-to-wire is one of the hardest things you can do, and it wasn't just the beginning of the year for us," Coach Jim Calhoun said. "This wire-to-wire went September to April, and that's as hard as it gets."
The 32-year coaching veteran missed making the Basketball Hall of Fame by one vote this week. After the way he built and guided this team, it's hard to imagine why. He coached UConn to its second championship in six seasons, and joined Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight as the only active coaches with multiple titles.
Tonight, tiny Storrs, Conn. -- the home of the Huskies -- could become the undisputed capital of the basketball universe. The women's team takes on Tennessee in the title game in New Orleans, and with a win, Connecticut would become the first school to sweep both championships.
"It was a great season," Okafor said. "We had our ups and downs. This moment makes it all worthwhile."
The Huskies led by 15 points at halftime and extended the lead to 25 points in the second half. Although Tech's furious rally cut the deficit to seven in the final seconds, the outcome was never in doubt.
Tech got nine points and 11 rebounds from Schenscher. Will Bynum led the Jackets with 17 and B.J. Elder had 14, but they simply couldn't shoot on this night. That they shot just 38 percent from the field was understandable, given they were going against Okafor and a lineup that included two more 6-10 guys.
But 12-for-21 from the free-throw line? That was a killer, and it allowed the Huskies to push the lead to double digits much more easily than they might have.
Of course, losing always hurts, but it was hard to deem this season a failure for Tech.
The team from the campus in downtown Atlanta was picked to finish seventh this season in the nine-team Atlantic Coast Conference, but instead made it to its first Final Four since 1990 and its first title game.
"We may not have one name that people can latch on to, so we're somewhat nondescript," Hewitt said. "But this has been an excellent basketball team the whole season."
The first inkling that this could be a big year for Tech came in November, in the preseason NIT, when the Jackets dismantled UConn 77-61 to knock the Huskies out of the top spot in the poll.
Okafor's back was hurting then. The UConn team that showed up for the final barely resembled the one from last fall.
"The difference between this game and the preseason NIT was that this was the national championship game," Gordon said, "plain and simple."