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Creating a diversion

UConn's Gordon takes advantage of Tech's focus on Okafor

Posted: Tuesday April 6, 2004 12:39AM; Updated: Tuesday April 6, 2004 1:14AM
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Ben Gordon
UConn's Ben Gordon hasn't decided if he'll stick around campus for another year.
AP
FINAL FOUR
Alamodome, San Antonio
Saturday, April 3
(3) Georgia Tech 67, (2) Oklahoma State 65
(2) UConn 79, (1) Duke 78
CHAMPIONSHIP
Monday, April 5
(2) UConn 82, (3) Georgia Tech 73
SI.COM AT THE TITLE GAME
Point taken
By Stewart Mandel
Taliek Brown, UConn's much-maligned point guard, set the record straight in his final game.
Closer Look
By Stewart Mandel
The Huskies disproved the recent notion that you don't need future pros to win a title.
From the wire

Okafor shines on big stage
'Gentle Ben' steps up
Georgia Tech goes cold
Huskies use fast start
Parties in Storrs, New Orleans

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Final bracket | Hoops Bracket Challenge
Complete NCAA tournament coverage

All season, teams that worried too much about Emeka Okafor inside were beaten by Ben Gordon outside.

The national championship game was no exception.

With Okafor commanding attention in the lane, Gordon sparked Connecticut's game-breaking run midway through the first half, scoring 12 of the Huskies' first 24 points in their 82-73 victory over Georgia Tech on Monday night.

"I just kept telling myself that I won't be denied and I would not let my team lose no matter what," said Gordon, wearing one of the championship nets around his neck. "This feels just incredible."

Gordon, UConn's leading scorer this season, finished with 21 points, the fifth straight game he scored at least 18.

Fittingly, he and Okafor were both unanimous picks for the all-tournament team.

In the huddle before tipoff, Gordon told his teammates "this is where we want to be, this is what we've worked for since September." It was another example of how he's shed the label of "Gentle Ben" that coach Jim Calhoun once used against him.

"I learned that beautiful people like him can become killers on the basketball court," Calhoun said.

Gordon's marksmanship was as much a part of UConn's postseason drive as Okafor's presence in the paint. Gordon scored 36 points in the regional final against Alabama, the second-highest performance in the entire tournament.

He struggled a bit to score 18 in the semifinal Saturday night against Duke, making only one 3-pointer. He proved from the start that things were going to be different Monday night.

After hitting a 3-pointer in transition for UConn's third basket, Gordon fed Okafor for a dunk soon after.

Then came Gordon's two memorable minutes that turned the title game into a rout.

Starting with three foul shots after being whacked by 7-foot-1 Luke Schenscher, Gordon came back with consecutive 3-pointers. What had been a 12-11 Georgia Tech lead was now a 24-16 Connecticut advantage.

"The whole team fed off that," forward Josh Boone said.

"Ben did what he does best -- score points," said Rashad Anderson, another outside sharpshooter. "His shots were in rhythm and he was hitting them. He and Emeka, they carried us all the way here."

Gordon made a jumper in the lane early in the second half, then his focus waned as the lead grew. He was benched with about seven minutes left after throwing a crosscourt pass that was stolen, drawing a tongue-lashing from coach Jim Calhoun.

Sent back out for the final minutes, Gordon capped his night with another pair of free throws.

Gordon was 5-of-17 from the field and 8-of-9 from the line.

Point guard Taliek Brown played a key role in support of Gordon and Okafor.

Much maligned throughout his four seasons since taking over for Khalid El-Amin, Brown leaves with a national championship on his resume, just as El-Amin did in 1999. He also leaves with the most assists in school history.

"I broke the assist record, scored over 1,000 points and now I won a national championship," Brown said. "They can't say anything now."

Brown had nine points, four assists and two turnovers. It was quite a turnaround from his two-assist, seven-turnover outing against Duke.

"It feels really good to end it like this, with a real solid game," Brown said. "I had to redeem myself after the Duke game."

UConn could be without the threesome of Brown, Gordon and Okafor next season.

Brown is definitely gone, and Okafor is practically a lock considering he graduates in May and voluntarily took part in Senior Day.

Gordon has said he'll wait until after the season to decide.

Now, thanks in part to him, it ended just the way he wanted.


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