2:00 PM ET, March 7, 2004
Carrier Dome, Syracuse, New York
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.
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