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Gordon paces Huskies' rout

3/26/2004

PHOENIX (AP) -- Ben Gordon lost his footing climbing the steps to
the stage for a postgame interview and banged his knee. That's
about the only thing that went wrong for Connecticut.

UConn hit from outside, pounded the ball inside and just plain
dominated Vanderbilt most of the night. Now the Huskies are a win
from becoming the Final Four team they were expected to be.

Gordon had 20 points, nine rebounds and five assists and UConn
beat the cold-shooting Commodores 73-53 in the semifinals of the
Phoenix Regional on Thursday night.

The second-seeded Huskies (30-6) advanced to Saturday's regional
final against the winner of Thursday's late game between defending
NCAA champion Syracuse and Alabama.

"A team has to beat us," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "I
don't want to lose."

Rashad Anderson had 15 points and Emeka Okafor added 12 points
and 11 boards for the Huskies, who staved off a 16-3 second-half
spurt by Vandy that cut the lead to 52-45 on Corey Smith's jumper
with 12:07 to play.

Anderson then sank a 3-pointer on his first shot of the half to
start an 8-0 run that put UConn up 60-45 with 8:35 left. The
Commodores (23-10), outrebounded 41-17, never got closer than 13
again.

Matt Freije, the Commodores' career scoring leader, shot 3-of-18
for eight points after scoring 31 points to help his team rally for
a 75-73 second-round victory over North Carolina State in Orlando,
Fla.

"I try to look at body language," Calhoun said. "I could
detect that they weren't sharp."

Smith and Mario Moore each scored 12 for Vandy, which shot 35
percent.

Leading up to the game, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings called
UConn "probably the most talented team in the tournament" and he
might be right.

Sixth-seeded Vanderbilt, in the final 16 for the first time in
11 years, declared itself the underdog Wednesday and was
overmatched athletically on Thursday even if Gordon had a little
slip up after the game.

"We got off to a poor start," Stallings said. "We talked
about getting off to a good start and controlling the pace of the
game. Getting off to a poor start, we were a lot more subjected to
the pace they wanted.

"We showed some fight and grit in the second half by making a
game out of it, but when you get down big to a team as good as
Connecticut you'll have a hard time coming back."

Taliek Brown added 12 points as four Huskies starters reached
double figures, but UConn was unhappy with its 18 turnovers.

Brown, the pesky UConn point guard who's been inconsistent this
season, has scored in double digits in all three tournament games.
The four-year starter scored 14 and 11 points in the first two
rounds -- the only time this season he's had double digits in
consecutive games.

Anderson keyed a 17-1 run in the first half, scoring seven
straight including two 3-pointers, as UConn built a 25-8 lead and
quickly established the up-tempo game it wanted -- and Vanderbilt
hoped to avoid.

When Smith ended the Commodores' drought of nearly 7 minutes
without a field goal by making a 3 8:11 before halftime, Okafor
dunked seconds later to make it 27-11.

Vandy knew it would have a difficult time if it didn't play a
near-perfect game, and the Nashville, Tenn., school couldn't even
make up ground when Okafor watched from the bench with two fouls
for the final 7:02 of the first half.

UConn had an answer for the few runs Vandy mustered, crashing
the offensive glass to get easy putbacks and demoralizing dunks.

"They got the ball out in transition," Moore said. "They were
able to knock down some shots, and at the end of the day, when you
don't rebound and when you don't get back in transition, you're
going to lose."

Okafor, who was recruited by Vanderbilt, showed no signs of
trouble from an ailing back that has bothered him all season. He
sat out two games during the Big East tournament before returning
for the championship game against Pittsburgh.

Stallings wanted to limit the minutes for Freije to keep him
fresh, but it didn't seem to matter that he played 33 -- he looked
nothing like the player he'd been only four days earlier. Against
NC State, Freije made four 3-pointers and shot 11-for-11 at the
free-throw line for the overachieving Commodores, who reached the
tournament for the first time since 1997.

"We did a great job of contending every shot," UConn forward
Josh Boone said. "We made sure we always had a hand in his face.
We tried to bump him a little bit so he had to fade away."

Anderson, a feisty 6-5 sophomore averaging 10.4 points coming
in, did not start until Feb. 24 at St. John's. The Huskies are 9-0
with him as a starter. Their only loss in their last 10 was the one
he didn't start -- at Syracuse on March 7 in the regular-season
finale.