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Updated: Friday, November 28, 2003 7:38 PM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(1) Connecticut 76, Utah 44

NEW YORK (Ticker) -- Emeka Okafor did not look like he is suffering from an ailing back.

Okafor collected 21 points and seven rebounds as top-ranked Connecticut bounced back from its first loss of the season by bullying Utah, 76-44, for third place in the Preseason NIT.

Connecticut (4-1) was dismal in Wednesday's 77-61 loss to Georgia Tech, trailing by double digits over the final 15 minutes. Okafor was bothered by a bad back throughout the loss and made just 2-of-10 shots.

"I was just trying not to think about it," Okafor said. "It still hurts the same."

The 6-9 All-America candidate responded with a complete effort on both ends of the floor. He made 10-of-13 shots, did all his work on the glass by halftime and decisively outplayed Utah freshman center Andrew Bogut.

Okafor had his way in the matchup with the 6-11 Bogut, maneuvering for an assortment of dunks and layups. He also rejected the Australian twice in the first half.

"He's a good player," Okafor said. "I did a good job of asserting myself early. I had to do what the team needed me to do."

With his back acting up, Okafor left with 11:21 remaining to a standing ovation from the pro-Huskies crowd at Madison Square Garden.

UConn forward Denham Brown made all eight shots and finished with 19 points. Ben Gordon netted 12 as the Huskies shot a robust 62 percent (33-of-53).

"I think we came and we played with a sense of purpose," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "We played Utah with the same approach Georgia Tech played us."

Utah (3-2) suffered the worst loss in coach Rick Majerus' 15 seasons at the school. The Utes trailed by as many as 38 points and surpassed a 101-70 setback to Kentucky in the 1996 NCAA Tournament.

"We got caught in that buzz saw," Majerus said. "I don't know who's going to beat them for the national championship. They're as good as any team I've seen."

UConn scored 13 straight points to snap an early 2-2 tie, effectively ending any doubts about the outcome. Brown scored the Huskies' last eight points of the half as they took a 37-13 bulge to the locker room.

"We had to check ourselves," Brown said. "We had to be the team we thought we were."

Utah had 10 turnovers by halftime for the third straight game and finished with 15 and shot a woeful 22 percent (5-of-23) from the floor in the first half. The dreadful play extended to the foul line, where they made 6-of-21 and shot 26 percent (9-of-35) in the two games in New York.

Nick Jacobson scored 19 points to lead Utah and Bogut added 10 and seven boards.


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