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Updated: Saturday, March 27, 2004 8:38 PM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(2) Connecticut 87, (8) Alabama 71

PHOENIX (Ticker) -- Emeka Okafor sat out most of the second half with a neck stinger. By that time, Ben Gordon and Rashad Anderson took the sting out of Alabama.

Gordon scored 36 points and Anderson added a career-high 28 as second-seeded Connecticut completed its waltz through the Phoenix Region with an 87-71 victory over the eighth-seeded Crimson Tide.

The Huskies advanced to the Final Four for the second time under coach Jim Calhoun - the first coming in 1999 when they won the national championship - and improved to 2-4 in regional finals.

"This team was plenty good enough to get to a Final Four and is good enough to do big things there," Calhoun said.

On April 3, Connecticut (31-6) will play the winner of Sunday's Atlanta Region final between Duke and Xavier. The Huskies defeated Duke in the 1999 championship game.

Taking advantage of a region in which it played no seed higher than sixth, Connecticut won its four games by an average of 17.5 points. This one wasn't close, either.

The Huskies put on a shooting clinic in the first half, converting 9-of-11 3-pointers in building a 53-29 lead. Anderson made all six from behind the arc and scored 22 points in the first half.

"They shot the lights out," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. "It's hard to believe that any team in the country can beat them if they shoot the ball they way they did tonight."

Okafor, Connecticut's star center, was a force on the defensive end, blocking five shots and grabbing nine rebounds in the first half. But he suffered a neck stinger after getting fouled by Alabama's Jermareo Davidson with 9:19 left and experienced numbness in his right shoulder and arm.

Okafor started the second half but left for good with 16:32 remaining.

"Just a little tingle in the shoulder, nothing too serious," he said after making 1-of-5 shots.

But Okafor's offense was not needed due to the uncanny accuracy of Gordon - the Phoenix Region Most Valuable Player - and Anderson. One point from matching a career high, Gordon made 11-of-19 shots, including four 3-pointers.

Anderson also hit four 3-pointers and scored 16 points and Gordon added 10 in the first 13 1/2 minutes as Connecticut built a 33-20 lead.

After Alabama scored the next five points, the Huskies closed the half with a devastating 20-4 run as Gordon hit a short jumper, three free throws and a 3-pointer and Anderson added a pair from behind the arc.

"That first half is going to be hard to top," Gordon said. "We're playing our best ball of the season right now and hopefully that will continue next week in San Antonio. You can't say enough about the way Rashad has stepped up for us."

Chuck Davis scored a career-high 24 points and Kennedy Winston added 21 for Alabama (20-13), which advanced to a regional final for the first time in school history after upsetting top-seeded Stanford in the second round and defending champion Syracuse in the regional semifinals.

But the Crimson Tide got little from guards Earnest Shelton and Antoine Pettway. Shelton made just 3-of-11 shots and Pettway scored one point.

Alabama pulled within 76-62 after Davis made a pair of free throws with 4:39 left and Connecticut's Josh Boone missed four straight at the line. But Gordon hit a 10-footer in the lane with 4:05 remaining, then added two free throws and a short jumper.


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