12:00 PM ET, January 24, 2004
XL Center, Hartford, Connecticut
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Providence is making a run at the Big East elite.The Friars followed last-second losses to No. 16 Texas and Rutgers by winning their next five games, including Saturday's 66-56 upset over No. 4 Connecticut on the Huskies' tough home court.Ryan Gomes led the Friars (13-3, 4-1) with 26 points and 12 rebounds and Providence passed UConn (15-3, 3-1) for first place in the conference.The Friars are 2-1 against ranked teams this season and snapped UConn's 19-game winning streak at the Hartford Civic Center."It's a hard place to play," Providence coach Tim Welsh said. "You let this building get going and all of a sudden a one-point game turns into nine real quick and it gets out of hand."UConn had few answers for Gomes who was able to score both inside and out. The 6-foot-7 junior, who grew up in nearby Waterbury, scored 10 of the Friars' first 14 points to give Providence a 14-8 lead in the first 7 minutes."It's a good win for us, not just because I'm from Connecticut, but it was for first place in the Big East," Gomes said. "We just came in as if this was just another Big East game that we had to win and we came out and did it."UConn used a number of defenders on Gomes in the first half, but it wasn't until center Emeka Okafor drew the assignment permanently in the second half that Gomes cooled off somewhat.Okafor, the only Husky in double figures, led UConn with 19 points and 13 rebounds. The Huskies shot 40.7 percent from the field, their second lowest mark of the season. They shot 38 percent in the loss to Georgia Tech on Nov. 26."(Gomes) has great footwork," Okafor said. "He'll try to bring you out on the perimeter. He'll try to exploit you."The Huskies were also exploited by their own soft defense and sloppy ball handling. The Friars scored 11 points off 16 UConn turnovers and outscored the Huskies 19-8 on transition baskets.A disappointed UConn coach Jim Calhoun said this loss will stay with him the rest of the season."They executed down the stretch and we did not make the tough plays defensively that we needed to," Calhoun said. "They outplayed us. They certainly deserved to win."UConn guard Ben Gordon finished with just nine points, nine below his average. It was his first game since undergoing surgery Wednesday on his broken nose. Gordon, who had a team-high five turnovers, played with a protective mask.UConn trailed by six points at halftime and battled back to take a 49-48 lead on Rashad Anderson's 3-pointer with 8:56 left in the game. Gomes picked up his fourth foul on Huskies' next possession, drawing a huge roar from the UConn crowd as he left the game. Taliek Brown went 1-of-2 on the ensuing free throws to extend the UConn margin to three points, but it would be the Huskies' last lead.Undaunted by Gomes' absence, the Friars went on a 9-2 run, fueled by two 3-pointers from Sheiku Kabba, and UConn never recovered."They just played with a lot of confidence even though I wasn't out there," Gomes said. "That's a good thing about this team, it doesn't rely on just one person."Kabba finished with 10 points, while Donnie McGrath led the Friars with seven assists.The Friars had a season-low six turnovers and their zone defense got the best of UConn early. The Friars had nine steals in the first half, stepping into the passing lanes repeatedly for easy picks. Gomes scored 17 points in the period, getting a number of baskets in transition off UConn turnovers and the Friars led by as much as 22-12 with just under 12 minutes to play.The Huskies eventually found some seams in the PC zone and scrambled back with a 10-0 run. Okafor led the way with two inside baskets. The Friars countered with a 9-2 run to regain the lead and took a 35-29 halftime lead."We just played soft, we didn't play like a Husky team," Brown said. "Everybody's going to come at us and they're going to be real aggressive with us. We've got to be ready every game."Providence trails the series 38-23 but has won the last two over UConn. Welsh liked his vantage point on Saturday."It's another quality win which hopefully will impress people," Welsh said. "I learned long ago if you're in the top four in the Big East, you've got a chance to do something special in March."