Allen Shot Nets Title for UConn

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The question after No. 3 Connecticut and No. 6 Georgetown went at it like Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night was whether the teams left everything in the ring after the Huskies' thrilling 75-74 victory.

There is this matter of the upcoming NCAA tournament, but that seemed to mean little to these teams, who engaged in one of the best knock-down basketball games in recent memory apparently for the sheer sport of it.

There was nothing perilously riding on the outcome of the Big East title game. Both teams had already secured high NCAA seedings. Both teams had higher aspirations.

Connecticut wouldn't even cut down the nets.

But after junior guard Ray Allen sank an impossible shot with 13.6 seconds left and Georgetown couldn't match it before the crowd of 19,544, the outpouring rivaled that of any Final Four contest anyone could remember.

In fact, they should bottle Saturday's euphoria and ship it across the Hudson River for use later this month at the actual Final Four at East Rutherford, N.J.

Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun called the game "one of the greatest athletic contests I've ever been involved in."

A momentum builder?

The last two Big East tournaments champions, Providence and Villanova, followed up with first-round NCAA losses.

Some coaches privately wondered if the toll extended was worth the price of winning.

"Whoever said this tournament doesn't mean a thing is full of . . . ," Georgetown Coach John Thompson said.

If the Huskies (30-2) wanted to rest up for the NCAA tournament, they could have started with 4:46 left. Center Travis Knight had fouled out and Georgetown had extended its lead to 74-63.

Instead, Connecticut scored the game's final 12 points and stormed the court.

It seemed an impossible task, given that Allen Iverson, the Hoyas' phenomenal sophomore guard, had recently returned to the game after sitting out much of the half with four fouls.

But Iverson would be held scoreless, pestered incessantly by the defense of Connecticut freshman guard Ricky Moore.

"His defense on Allen, no one in the league has done that," Calhoun said of Moore's play.

How much did Kirk King care?

The Connecticut forward scored eight of his 20 points in the final four minutes. With 1:03 left, he followed Moore's miss with a basket that cut the Hoyas' lead to 74-73.

After Georgetown's Victor Page missed the front end of a one-and-one with 45 seconds left, Connecticut took the rebound and called time.

The Huskies then worked the clock down and ordered the ball into the hands of their star, Allen, not concerned that he had missed his last 14 shots.

Allen, guarded by Iverson in a matchup of All-Americans, drove to his right from the top of the key, hung in the air for what seemed forever, then threw up an awkward-looking shot just before his feet returned to Earth.

The ball bounced on the rim, kissed softly off the backboard, and fell back through the net.

"As you know if you saw the second half, I couldn't make anything," Allen said. "I got a lucky roll."

Before Allen could think, Iverson had the ball and was tearing back down the court.

With the clock inside five seconds, Iverson drove to his right and put up a shot to rival Allen's in awkwardness. But Iverson's missed. In the mayhem underneath the basket, forward Jerome Williams had the ball and a good look at the rim, but his follow shot also missed as time expired.

Connecticut players rushed the court in celebrating the Huskies' first Big East tournament title since 1990. Players hugged and stomped and whooped and hollered.

But there was one thing they didn't do.

"It was a coach's decision not to cut down the nets," Calhoun said. "I told the kids, before Seton Hall, we didn't come here to prove we're the best team in the league. We've already done that."

Calhoun was going to have a hard time convincing his team that this wasn't special. But there are more important things. The Huskies have been to the Sweet 16 four times in the 1990s, never beyond.

"This is a game they'll remember a long time," Calhoun said. "At least until tomorrow morning or so."

Thompson was also grappling with perspective. His team fell to 26-7 with the loss.

"Next week, this will not be important at all," he said. "But right now, it's pretty damn important."

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