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Georgia Tech stuns No. 1 UConn, will face Texas Tech in NIT final

Posted: Thursday November 27, 2003 1:24AM; Updated: Thursday November 27, 2003 1:25AM
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  Emeka Okafor
Buzzed: With a sore back, All-America center Emeka Okafor couldn't carry the Huskies past the swarming Yellow Jackets.
AP

NEW YORK (AP) -- No. 1 no more.

Georgia Tech shrugged off Connecticut's No. 1 ranking and took advantage of an ailing Emeka Okafor and some horrendous shooting by the Huskies for a stunning 77-61 victory Wednesday night to reach the finals of the Preseason NIT.

The victory put the Yellow Jackets (4-0) in Friday night's championship game against Texas Tech, which used a grueling defense to wear down Utah 65-54 in the first game of the doubleheader.

UConn shot just 37.9 percent on 25-for-66 from the floor and was even worse from the foul line, making just 10 of 30 attempts. They were 1-for-10 on 3-point attempts.

"We got (beat) physically and mentally," coach Jim Calhoun said. "Georgia Tech handled us in every way. We took bad shots. We were not a tough team tonight. That's something we've been known for for years. Toughness is fighting through a screen. Toughness is diving for loose balls. Toughness is making one more step to help a teammate.

"We were made to give in by Georgia Tech's defense. They stopped everything. They outplayed us. they outhustled us. They outworked us. Tonight was an exceptionally negative night."

Not for the Yellow Jackets.

With Okafor, the leading vote-getter on the preseason All-America team, nursing a sore back, Georgia Tech took advantage inside, driving to the basket time after time.

They played high-speed transition basketball, often beating the Huskies down the court.

"That's how we play," coach Paul Hewitt said. "Let's see who's in better shape."

Okafor was in bad shape right from the start. He was doubtful for the game with back spasms and missed a time-out huddle early, stretched out on the floor as a UConn assistant worked on him. He often ran gingerly from one end of the court to the other and was hampered on both offense and defense.

He finished with 13 points on 2-of-10 shooting with 13 rebounds and six blocks after averaging 19 points, 12.3 rebounds and 4.3 blocks in the first three games of the season.

"Emeka never felt good the whole night," Calhoun said. "He begged to play. The doctors assured us he's not going to do any permanent damage. His timing offensively and everything else was thrown off."

With Connecticut's inside game vulnerable, Georgia Tech attacked relentlessly as Isma'il Muhammad and B.J. Elder took turns scoring baskets in bunches. Each finished with 22 points.

UConn (3-1) started out fast, scoring the game's first six points including dazzling dunks by Okafor and Taliek Brown. But by the time Ben Gordon had converted an alley-oop pass from Brown for another spectacular basket, Georgia Tech had jumped into the lead.

Elder, called "college basketball's biggest secret" by Hewitt, scored nine straight points for the Yellow Jackets, who overtook the Huskies and built a lead that stretched to 12 points at 40-28.

"After a while, I don't think it's going to be a secret anymore," Elder said.

Georgia Tech missed a couple of opportunities to extend the lead and a 7-2 run at the end of the half narrowed UConn's deficit to seven points at 42-35.

It was the second time in four games that UConn trailed at halftime. The Huskies were down by three to Yale in their opener but recovered to win by 10.

There was no recovery this time.

UConn managed just 26 points in the second half and never made a dent in a lead that stretched to as many as 19 points.

"I very rarely get deflated," Calhoun said. "I get upset. I get angry. I get all those emotions. But tonight I got deflated. We were getting dunked on. We were getting beat down the floor sometimes four-on-one. Those are the effort kind of things that scared me."

It was the second stinging loss in four years for the Huskies at Madison Square Garden. After winning the NCAA title in March 1999, UConn was beaten in its opener the following November by Iowa in the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic.

Texas Tech 65, Utah 54

NEW YORK (AP) -- For coach Bob Knight, basketball strategy always starts when the other team has the ball.

"You start with defense," Knight said Wednesday after Texas Tech put on a pretty good display of it in a 65-54 victory over Utah to advance to the championship game of the Preseason NIT.

"If you don't have defense, we have to score two baskets for every one the other team scores," Knight said. "It's usually defense that enables the offense to get the lead.

"What I've always tried to do is make sure the defense is something that enables the offense to win the game."

It was that way Wednesday as Tech stole the ball 12 times and rattled Utah. That defense and the senior savvy of Andre Emmett to seal the victory.

Texas Tech will play Georgia Tech -- which upset top-ranked Connecticut 77-61 -- for the tournament title Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

Emmett scored 16 of his 23 points in the first half as Texas Tech (4-0) came from behind to take control of the game.

Utah, with just two seniors on a roster filled with freshmen and sophomores, grabbed the early lead behind seven points from Richard Chaney. Then Tech turned up the heat.

With Utah leading 13-6, Emmett and Devonne Giles fueled a 16-3 run that put the Red Raiders in front to stay. The stretch was interrupted only by a 3-pointer by Nick Jacobson, one of the two seniors on coach Rick Majerus' team.

Rattled, Utah started rushing long shots and Texas Tech took advantage by using high-percentage shots. The Raiders never attempted a shot from beyond the 3-point line until the game was well in hand.

Texas Tech led 35-25 at the half and stayed comfortably in front the rest of the way behind Emmett with major help from Giles and freshman Jarrius Jackson, who had 13 points apiece. Chaney topped Utah (3-1) with 17 points, and freshman Andrew Bogut had 13 rebounds.

Emmett got an in-game reminder from Knight. When the senior missed an easy layup at the start of the second half, Knight screamed at him, "Andre! Dunk the ball!"

That's what Emmett did on the next two trips down the floor.

Still, Knight was most impressed with Tech's defense. As he left the postgame interview, he noted, "I think I would have said that even if we had lost the game."

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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