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McNamara keys win over UConn

3/7/2004

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- Gerry McNamara finally said good-bye to
that Connecticut jinx, and so did the Syracuse Orangemen.

In their run to the national championship last year, the
Orangemen were badly beaten twice by UConn and again lost to them
in February, 84-56. And each time McNamara shouldered most of the
blame, going a combined 4-for-33 for 15 points in the three games.

That all changed on Sunday. McNamara scored 24 points and Craig
Forth had 14 points and 13 rebounds to lead Syracuse (No. 24 AP) to a
67-56 victory over the Huskies (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today, No. 7 AP).

"I've been waiting for this one," said McNamara, who hit four
3-pointers. "UConn has had my number."

It was the fifth straight win for Syracuse (21-6, 11-5 Big East)
and prevented the Huskies (24-6, 12-4) from tying Pittsburgh for
the regular-season Big East championship and what would have been
their ninth conference title.

But UConn was at a disadvantage on this day. Center Emeka Okafor
played in obvious pain and was not the factor he was the first time
the teams played this year.

Okafor had 25 points and 11 rebounds in the first contest and
allowed the Huskies to play the up-tempo game that had repeatedly
buried the Orangemen. On Sunday, he played in obvious pain and
finished with nine rebounds and a season-low two points, taking
only two shots in 32 minutes, and there were few fast-break baskets
for the Huskies.

"I was just trying to go out and get a win," said Okafor, who
leads the nation with 19 double-doubles and is a strong contender
for national player of the year. "I wanted to get a regular-season
championship and try to end the regular season the right way.

"I did everything I could to try to play, and now we'll do
everything we can to be ready for the postseason."

Charlie Villanueva, who tried to pick up the slack for the
Huskies, finished with 13 points, Ben Gordon had 11 and Rashad
Anderson 10. UConn, which leads the nation in rebounding margin,
was outrebounded 40-33 by Syracuse.

UConn coach Jim Calhoun said Okafor would be re-evaluated as
soon as the team returned home. He made no excuses for the loss.

"That (Okafor's injury) had nothing to do with the game, and I
told my team that," Calhoun said. "If all we are is Emeka Okafor,
then we should cancel any kind of bid that we get."

Hakim Warrick finished with 19 points to lead Syracuse and Josh
Pace had five points, eight rebounds and four assists and did not
commit a turnover for the third straight game.

The teams played to a 32-all halftime tie, then McNamara hit two
3s to key an 8-0 Syracuse run at the start of the second and the
Orangemen maintained the lead the remainder of the game.

Syracuse, which tied Providence for third in the conference and
earned a first-round bye in the Big East tournament, has held each
of its last five victims to under 60 points, including No. 6
Pittsburgh.

That has righted a season that appeared to be going downhill
fast after five losses in six games and point guard Billy Edelin
sitting out 10 games for personal reasons.

"A lot of people jumped on our backs when we lost a few
games," McNamara said. "For us to stick together and win these
last seven of eight is impressive. We've showed character."

Despite Okafor's limitations, UConn persevered. Taliek Brown
brought the Huskies to 44-42 with a pullup jumper in the lane at
11:06, but freshman Demetris Nichols hit a jumper in the lane and a
3-pointer from the left corner to boost the Syracuse lead back to
49-44.

Warrick scored seven points in the closing minutes to keep the
Huskies at bay, and they never threatened again.

"We feel pretty confident as a team," Warrick said. "We have
a bit of a swagger. We have not only beaten two of the best teams
in our conference, but in the nation. I think that says a lot."

Connecticut fell behind after the opening tip and trailed 16-10
on a layup off the glass by Forth at 12:28. Then the Huskies
clamped down and went on a 13-0 run while holding Syracuse
scoreless for 5:58.

The Orangemen rallied from five points behind to tie it at the
break. McNamara scored seven points and a 15-foot jumper in the
lane by Forth in the final minute knotted the score. Forth, who had
never scored a point in three games against the Huskies, had 12 in
the first half.