Price leads UConn into 2K final with 18 points

NEW YORK (AP) -- First came the life-threatening medical condition, then the off-court problems that earned him 18 months of probation. Now that A.J. Price has gotten his life in order, his game is quickly following suit.

Connecticut's junior guard scored 18 points and made everything go on offense, carrying the Huskies to a 78-66 victory Thursday night over upstart Gardner-Webb in the semifinals of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic.

Price scored a career-high 24 points against Buffalo to reach Madison Square Garden, and is finally showing the leadership and game-changing ability that coach Jim Calhoun expected when Price arrived in Storrs, Conn., three years ago.

"That's the A.J. Price I remember," Calhoun said. "He can run the team, he has a feel for the game. He's really putting things together. That's obviously very encouraging for us."

A highly sought recruit, Price suffered a brain hemorrhage in October 2004 and spent nearly three weeks in critical condition. He ended up redshirting the season with an arteriovenous malformation.

By the time he received medical clearance to play, it no longer mattered. Price had been charged for his role in the theft of laptop computers from dorm rooms and was suspended for 2005-06. He finally hit the court last season and struggled physically and with being consistent.

"Last year was the most difficult basketball year I've faced," he said. "But I feel great. I'm coming out hard, giving 110 percent. If I do that, I'll be fine. The team will be fine."

Doug Wiggins added 13 points and Stanley Robinson 12 for the Huskies (3-0), who were given a scare by Morgan State and Buffalo on their way to the Garden. Connecticut will face No. 3 Memphis in the championship on Friday night.

Gritty little Gardner-Webb, national darlings after upsetting Kentucky at Rupp Arena last week, couldn't replicate that stunning performance against another college basketball blue blood. The undersized, undermanned Runnin' Bulldogs (3-1) struggled to keep up with the more athletic Huskies.

Aaron Linn hit a deep 3-pointer to get Gardner-Webb within nine a couple minutes into the second half, but Connecticut responded with an 11-2 run to get some breathing room. Three 3-pointers by Wiggins in a span of less than 2 minutes put it out of reach.

The last two triples came as Calhoun summoned Jerome Dyson from the bench with about 11 minutes left because Wiggins hadn't been playing defense. During the next timeout, Calhoun muttered "good job" to his sophomore 3-point specialist as he plopped down on the bench.

"For 8 minutes we showed what we can do," Robinson said. "Against a team like Memphis or Oklahoma, we've got to put together 20 or 30 minutes."

Thomas Sanders scored a game-high 20 points and Grayson Flittner, the hero of the Kentucky win, added 16 for the Runnin' Bulldogs.

"I thought they killed us in the zone," Gardner-Webb coach Rick Scruggs said. "I thought they did a great job of adjusting and really combating what we were trying to do to them."

Scruggs said before the game he was worried about the wear that came with his squad's 84-68 rout of Kentucky: the countless television interviews, radio shows and pep rallies.

His instincts were right. The Bulldogs opened cold from the field, struggled defensively and put UConn in the double-bonus with 12:26 to go in the first half.

But Connecticut, just like in its other games against Morgan State and Buffalo, was unable to mount any sustained run to put it away early. Gardner-Webb answered a 10-point spurt with nine of its own, and a 15-3 run near the end of the first half with a 9-4 surge out of the break.

"We didn't shoot well or control the boards," Scruggs said. "I'm upset we didn't play better tonight. We made some runs but so did they."

Foul trouble and weary legs finally set in, though, which could be a troubling sign for Scruggs. His team, which had played two days earlier not expecting to reach the Garden, still has a consolation game Friday night. A game against Radford on Saturday will be the Bulldogs' fourth in five days, and a previously scheduled trip to UConn is on tap Tuesday.

"I'd do it again in a heartbeat," Scruggs said. "I asked Jim if he was going to just let us ride back with them."