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Gordon helps No. 3 UConn roll past Lehigh

Posted: Tuesday December 2, 2003 12:46AM; Updated: Tuesday December 2, 2003 12:48AM
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Villanueva may play Saturday

STORRS, Conn. (SI.com) -- Deflated by a loss to Georgia Tech that cost them their No. 1 ranking, the Connecticut Huskies may get an emotional lift soon with the activation of heralded freshman Charlie Villanueva.

Villanueva has been ineligible while the NCAA investigates possible contact with an agent during an NBA tryout camp in Chicago last summer. The 6-foot-11 forward from Brooklyn withdrew from the NBA Draft and headed for Storrs, but has missed the team's first five games during the investigation.


He was expected to miss Monday's game against Lehigh, but head coach Jim Calhoun said he thinks the issue would be resolved within days.

"He could be back quickly, in my opinion," Calhoun told reporters on Sunday. "I don't think he'll be back [Monday], but he could be back as quickly as next weekend."
Six games seemed like a likely suspension, which would mean that Villanueva could be eligible to play against Army on Saturday.

"I don't have a number, but I have a strong indicator that it will be settled before we play next weekend," Calhoun said

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said his team's 75-55 victory over Lehigh on Monday night amounted to a missed opportunity.

The third-ranked Huskies shot poorly in a sloppy first half and allowed the smaller Mountain Hawks to stay close early.

"We didn't take full advantage of the opportunity to get better," Calhoun said. "It wasn't our best performance, it wasn't our worst performance."

The Huskies (5-1) were playing their first game after relinquishing the No. 1 ranking, which they held in the preseason poll and for the first two weeks of the regular season. UConn was coming off a dominating 76-44 win over Utah last Friday in the consolation game of the Preseason NIT. Some of that edge was clearly missing on Monday.

"They were at a great level on Friday," Calhoun said. "They were just impeccable."

Ben Gordon led Connecticut with 19 points and a had a career-high five steals. Rashad Anderson finished with 14 points and Denham Brown had 13 points and eight rebounds.

Jose Olivero led Lehigh (1-3) with 17 points and Ra Tiah was 3-of-5 from behind the 3-point line and finished with 11.

After a quick 7-0 run on transition baskets in the first minute of the game, the Huskies quickly cooled off.

"We kind of got real laid back and stopped playing defense," Gordon said. "We didn't run any offense and we let them stick around."

UConn went four minutes without a field goal and the Mountain Hawks didn't fare much better, hitting just two of their first 12 shots. The teams combined for 20 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

Lehigh managed to stay close with five 3-pointers and caught UConn with 2:49 left in the first half on Dayne Mickelson's jumper that tied it 24-24.

"We were thinking that we could win the game even though nobody else did," Tiah said. "We weren't as shocked as everyone else."

The Huskies broke away with a 13-2 run in the closing minutes to take a 37-26 halftime lead. UConn was 6-of-6 from the free throw line in that spurt. Lehigh's only points in the final 21/2 minutes came off free throws made when Brown was called for a technical for trash talking.

UConn shot 55 percent in the second half and led by as many as 26 points with five minutes to play. But the Huskies lack of consistency frustrated their coach. Agitated by one Lehigh basket off a UConn turnover in the second half, Calhoun turned and kicked a courtside sign beneath the scorer's table.

"I think the kids felt the same way, they were frustrated," Calhoun said. "We did have enough minutes where we locked down and did the things we needed to do."

Emeka Okafor finished with 10 points and two blocked shots for UConn and freshman forward Josh Boone had five blocks.

Lehigh coach Billy Taylor said his team tried all night to control the tempo and keep the Huskies off balance, but couldn't overcome UConn's size and athleticism.

"I was proud of our effort. Disappointed that we lost, but I liked a lot of the things we did tonight," Taylor said.

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

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