Feb 28, 2004
By ROB MAADDI
AP Sports Writer
PHILADELPHIA - Emeka Okafor trailed Randy Foye by a step, slipped when he jumped and still managed to block the shot and clinch a victory.
Okafor, the nation's leading shot blocker, lived up to the billing, blocking shots by Foye at the end of regulation and again at the end of overtime to lead No. 8 Connecticut over Villanova 75-74 on Saturday.
"Nobody in the country can change a game like that," Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said of Okafor, who played through back spasms. "He showed why he's the best defensive player in the country. Emeka Okafor comes along once in a lifetime."
Josh Boone put in a rebound of a miss by Ben Gordon with 5.5 seconds left in overtime to give the Huskies a 75-74 lead before Okafor sealed the win.
Gordon had 21 points and Okafor added 17 for the Huskies (23-5, 11-3 Big East), who have won four straight since consecutive losses to Notre Dame and Pittsburgh dropped them from No. 5 to eighth. Connecticut has been ranked No. 1 a season-high eight weeks this season.
"That was the best block I ever saw," Gordon said of Okafor's game-saving swat.
Okafor knew he had to stop Foye once teammate Taliek Brown was picked off the play.
"I tried to anticipate it, but my foot slipped and I just got my hand on it," Okafor said.
"If he was hurt, I didn't know it," Villanova coach Jay Wright said of Okafor. "He played a great game."
Connecticut's Rashad Anderson tied it at 66 on a 3-pointer from the right wing with 7 seconds left in regulation. Okafor then blocked Foye's driving layup just before the buzzer, sending it to overtime.
Gordon had just 18 points in his last two games, prompting Calhoun to tell him to shoot more. In the final seconds, Connecticut made sure to put the ball in Gordon's hands. He drove to the basket, but missed a layup over two defenders. Boone got the rebound and put it in for the lead.
"This was a heart-check game. We gutted it out," Boone said.
Villanova hasn't beaten a ranked opponent since a 79-70 victory over Connecticut last season in Philadelphia. The Huskies came into that game ranked 23rd.
Sumpter's turnaround bank shot gave Villanova a 74-73 lead with 19 seconds left in overtime.
The Huskies took their first lead since the opening minutes of the second half when Okafor's dunk made it 69-68 with 2:46 left in overtime.
Connecticut could have put the game away, but missed four free throws in the overtime.
Calhoun, however, was pleased his players displayed their emotions during the game. At one point, Brown grabbed Hilton Armstrong by the jersey during a timeout and yelled at him.
"We're making progress," Calhoun joked.
Said Brown: "Coach loves that."
The Wildcats took their biggest lead, 57-49, following an 8-2 run that began with a layup by Foye. After Connecticut scored seven of the next nine points, Derrick Snowden hit a 3-pointer to put Villanova ahead 62-56.
Gordon hit a 3-pointer to get the Huskies within one point with 1:49 left in the second half. But Foye answered with a putback to make it 64-61. After a layup by Boone off a crisp pass by Gordon, Ray made a driving layup just before the shot clock expired for a 66-63 lead with 20 seconds remaining.
The Huskies scored five straight points in the final minutes of the first half, taking a 36-35 lead on a layup by Brown off a spectacular, twisting catch-and-pass from Gordon. A free throw by Chris Charles tied it at 36 at halftime.