SPOKANE, Washington (Ticker) -- Emeka Okafor did Jim Livengood a huge favor.
Okafor finished with 20 points and seven blocks as fifth-seeded Connecticut eliminated Brigham Young and a potential NCAA Tournament fiasco with a 58-53 victory in a South Region first-round matchup.
Brigham Young (23-9) entered as a No. 12 seed and could have caused havoc to the bracket had it won two games to advance to the "Sweet 16." Because Livengood's selection committee placed the Cougars in a sub-regional that fed into a Friday-Sunday regional, they would have been moved to the Midwest due to the religious restrictions that prohibit the Cougars from competing on Sundays.
The 6-9 Okafor helped make it a moot point by dominating his head-to-head matchup with 6-11, 260-pound Cougars center Rafael Araujo. Okafor, who also grabbed seven rebounds, bounced back from an eight-point, seven-rebound performance in a Big East championship loss to Pittsburgh.
Connecticut (22-9) took the lead for good on a 12-2 tear that opened the second half. Okafor started it with an inside hoop and Ben Gordon's three foul shots capped it for a 38-28 advantage more than four minutes in.
The Huskies extended the lead to as many as 14 points before the Cougars made a late run. Kevin Woodberry's 3-pointer cut the deficit to 50-48 with 2:20 remaining.
But Araujo committed an ill-advised foul on the perimeter on UConn point guard Taliek Brown, who made two free throws. After Okafor swatted a shot attempt by Araujo, Gordon ran down the shot clock and scored on a runner for a 54-48 lead with 67 seconds to go.
UConn meets Stanford in the second round.
Gordon netted 14 points and was the only other Huskie in double figures. Brown missed all seven shots and had just three assists as UConn overcame poor 33 percent (17-of-52) shooting.
Travis Hansen, BYU's lone senior starter, scored 21 points and Mark Bigelow added 12. The Cougars never found the mark from beyond the arc, making just 2-of-17 shots.
Araujo, who averages 12 points and nine rebounds, had a rough game and finished with six points on 2-of-11 shooting and eight rebounds. In addition, he helpless on defense against Okafor, who also fouled out Couugars starting forward Jake Shoff.
BYU's speed appeared to take UConn by surprise early in the game and a basket by Hansen provided a 20-16 lead with eight minutes left before halftime. A 3-pointer by Gordon triggered an 8-2 burst for the Huskies and the game went into halftime tied at 26-26.
But the Cougars, who shot 33 percent (11-of-33) in the first half, remained cold after the break and the Huskies took advantage. BYU had just three baskets in the first nine minutes after halftime.
A 3-pointer by Gordon with 11:52 remaining gave UConn a 46-32 advantage. The Huskies had just one basket the rest of the way and BYU ran off nine straight points to get back in the game.
BYU has not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1993.