Connecticut’s Victory Gets NCAA Off Hook
Brigham Young was rallying when Emeka Okafor swatted Rafael Araujo’s shot away.
Okafor made sure the Cougars won’t bust up anyone’s brackets -- they’re going home early instead.
Okafor controlled both ends of the court, scoring 20 points and blocking seven shots to lead fifth-seeded Connecticut to a 58-53 victory Thursday over No. 12 Brigham Young in the first round of the South Regional at Spokane Arena.
“He was magnificent,” Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun said. “He’s the best defensive player in the country. He alters games. He alters everything.”
The loss by BYU (23-9) averts a potentially embarrassing situation for the NCAA, which mistakenly put the Cougars in the South, where the Mormon-owned school would have had to play on a Sunday if it had advanced to the regional final.
Because BYU does not play on Sundays, the NCAA would have had to reshuffle the brackets if the Cougars had won their first two games, sending them to the Midwest.
Connecticut (22-9) made it moot and will play Stanford in the second round Saturday. Ben Gordon had 14 points for the Huskies, who are 11-0 in first-round games under Calhoun.
Travis Hansen scored 21 points and Mark Bigelow added 12 for BYU. But they didn’t get much help -- no other Cougar made a basket for nearly 20 minutes spanning the first and second half.
“Emeka is a great player -- quick on his feet,” Hansen said. “He did interrupt us a little bit. He got our big guys confused.”
Stanford 77, San Diego 69 -- Matt Lottich is developing a flair for the dramatic.
Lottich scored 17 points and made a big three-pointer with 49.7 seconds remaining, lifting the fourth-seeded Cardinal over No. 13 San Diego.
“I can’t tell you how many three-point shots Lottie has made lately,” Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery said. “He’s got the guts of a burglar.”
The Cardinal (24-8) -- making its ninth consecutive NCAA appearance -- came within a whisker of a first-round exit for the first time since 1992. Josh Childress scored 22 points and Julius Barnes had 18 for Stanford, which blew a 19-point first-half lead but rallied after San Diego (18-12) went ahead, 66-63, on a bank shot by Roy Morris with 3:42 to go.
Barnes made two free throws and Rob Little scored underneath to put the Cardinal up, 69-66, with 1:34 remaining. San Diego’s Jason Blair missed a three-pointer and Lottich made his critical three.
Lottich also made a key three-pointer late in an 82-77 win at No. 1 Arizona. He had 18 points in the final seven minutes as the Cardinal erased a 15-point deficit to win at Oregon State.
“All season long, Julius and Josh penetrate and I get open looks,” said Lottich, who has made almost 39% of his three-point attempts. “Late in the game the other team concentrates even more on them, our two main guys. My guy sags off when they penetrate and I’m the beneficiary.”
Blair scored 27 points. Jason Keep, a 6-foot-10, 275-pound center who played on two NCAA tournament teams at Oklahoma State, had 12 points and nine rebounds but struggled with foul trouble and didn’t score in the second half.
“That hurts,” San Diego Coach Brad Holland said. “The last time I checked, we need Jason Keep to score for us to win.”
The Toreros were making their first NCAA tournament appearance in 16 seasons -- the last nine under Holland. They upset Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference final to earn the berth.