Feb. 9, 2008
STORRS, Conn. (AP) – Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt warned his team not to try and challenge Connecticut down low, where 7-foot-3 shot-blocker Hasheem Thabeet makes his living.
“I told my team the last two days, ‘Do not throw the ball into the teeth of the lion, ’cause if you stick your head in, what’s going to happen is it’s going to get bitten off,”‘ Hewitt said.
The Yellow Jackets didn’t listen.
Thabeet scored a career-high 24 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked six shots in leading No. 19 UConn to an 80-68 win on Saturday, the Huskies’ seventh consecutive victory.
He may have altered twice as many shots as he blocked.
“When a (Georgia Tech) guy pump fakes four times and shoots the ball over the basket, I’m not sure what that is, but it’s something,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. “There is no stat for it.”
Jeff Adrien had 23 points and 11 rebounds for the Huskies (18-5), his 12th double-double of the season, and A.J. Price added 14 points, all but four after intermission.
Price’s 3-pointer with 6:04 left broke a 60-60 tie and sent the Huskies on a 14-2 run that sealed the win.
Connecticut, playing its fifth consecutive game without high-scoring guard Jerome Dyson, had three starters play at least 37 minutes.
“Even with only six kids who really played, we ran and we had plenty of energy down the stretch,” Calhoun said.
Thabeet, who had less than five years of organized basketball experience when he signed with Connecticut, came in averaging 10.6 points and 7.2 rebounds. The sophomore scored 15 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for UConn before halftime in this one, securing his fifth double-double.
“He’s finishing now,” Price said. “Last year, he went through a layup phase, where he tried to lay things up. He’s understanding now that with his height and his intimidation he really can instill some fear into these players.”
Georgia Tech seemed to have control early, using a smothering perimeter defense to take the lead. The Yellow Jackets held UConn guards Price, Doug Wiggins and Craig Austrie to a combined 1-for-12 shooting in the first half, and Georgia Tech led 35-31 at the break.
“We stayed with it tonight,” Price said. “We didn’t allow that to take us out of our offense completely. We still did some good things. We stayed persistent and fought through it.”
Tied at 18, Georgia Tech went on a 14-5 run, holding the Huskies without a field goal for more than 3 minutes. The Yellow Jackets committed 14 first-half fouls, but UConn could only convert nine of its 16 free throws.
The Huskies finished 32-of-42 from the line, hitting 23 of 26 in the second half.
Georgia Tech was ahead 40-33 early in the second half when UConn went on a 10-0 run, taking the lead on Austrie’s jumper with 15:48 left.
Zack Peacock tied the game at 45 on a 3-pointer, and the two teams went back and forth before UConn grabbed the momentum. Peacock finished with 10.
The Huskies finish their non-conference schedule 11-2, losing only to No. 1 Memphis and Gonzaga. Georgia Tech had won three of its last four, all on the road.