April 4, 2004
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
SAN ANTONIO (AP) – They started out playing in the Preseason NIT. On Monday night, they’ll end the season with the biggest game of all.
It’s Connecticut vs. Georgia Tech, Part II.
The Huskies (32-6) advanced to the national championship game with a thrilling 79-78 victory over Duke on Saturday night. The other Final Four semifinal was just as exciting: Will Bynum scored on a drive with 1.5 seconds left, giving Georgia Tech a 67-65 victory over Oklahoma State.
That set up a rematch from the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden, where Georgia Tech (28-9) gave its first indication of what kind of season it was going to be. With Emeka Okafor slowed by a sore back, then-No. 1 UConn was upset 77-61 by the Yellow Jackets.
It was a miserable game for the Huskies. They shot just 38 percent from the field and were even worse at the foul line, making just 10 of 30 attempts. From 3-point range, they were only 1-for-10.
“The fastest team we played this year was Georgia Tech,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. “The most difficult team we matched up with was Georgia Tech.”
Even so, the Huskies were made a six-point favorite.
Okafor is feeling much better now. He scored all 18 of his points in the second half against Duke, after sitting out most of the first half with two early fouls.
The Huskies overcame an early 11-point deficit and a late eight-point hole, giving themselves a chance to avenge their biggest loss of the season.
“Georgia Tech is a little bit a redemption thing for us,” freshman Josh Boone said. “A payback might be in the back of our minds.”
The Yellow Jackets withstood a comeback by Oklahoma State, which trailed most of the game. John Lucas hit a 3-pointer that tied it at 65 with 26.3 seconds left, but the Yellow Jackets got the final shot.
Working behind a pick from Luke Schenscher, Bynum drove to the basket for the winning shot.
Schenscher, a 7-foot-1 junior, led the Yellow Jackets with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
Afterward, he pointed out that Georgia Tech defeated both UConn and Duke this season.
“It gives us confidence,” he said. “We know we can beat either one of them.”
B.J. Elder, the Yellow Jackets’ leading scorer, has been slowed by a sprained right ankle in the NCAA tournament. He managed just two points on 1-of-4 shooting.
“I know it’s not 100 percent,” he said. “It hampered me on my jump shots. I couldn’t get the lift I needed. But with a couple of more days, it should be fine.”
Georgia Tech, which made its only other Final Four in 1990, will be playing in the championship game for the first time.
UConn is going for its second national championship. The Huskies beat Duke in the 1999 title game, their only other Final Four appearance.
Calhoun doesn’t expect the November loss to Georgia Tech to affect this game.
“Thirty games later, it’s not going to have a real significance,” he said. “Okafor was not Okafor. Schenscher is just a different player. I think he’s grown 7 inches. He’s got to be 8-foot-3 right? That’s the biggest guy I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Now, Georgia Tech and UConn will be playing in the biggest game.
“Very even,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It will be a very even game.”