SPOKANE, Wash. — The Connecticut Huskies reached the Sweet Sixteen by defeating Stanford 85-74 Saturday at Spokane Arena in the second round of the South bracket.
Ben Gordon set an arena record with 29 points while going 9-9 from the free-throw line as the Huskies rebounded from a 4-point halftime deficit.
Sophomore Emeka Okafor, who was held to 6 points in the first half, finished the game with 18 as he fueled a furious second-half run in which Connecticut outscored Stanford 14-4 in the half’s first eight minutes. Okafor also set an arena record with 15 rebounds as the Huskies outrebounded the Cardinal 43-33.
“The coaches didn’t think I was aggressive enough in the first half,” Okafor said. “They were talking about how I was tentative and that I wasn’t my usual bouncy self. Everything was on the line, so I just dug down deep and brought it out.”
Stanford guard Julius Barnes had 23 points for the Cardinal, with 16 of them coming in the first half. Barnes was held to just five shots in the second half as Jim Calhoun made the needed defensive adjustments.
“Whenever I passed the ball, they denied the turnback,” Barnes said. “When I pass to someone else, usually I stay out on the perimeter, and I don’t really move that much without the ball because I’m waiting to get the ball back into the post or wherever. They did a pretty good job of not letting me touch the ball again. They were forcing someone else to score the ball.”
Stanford sophomore Josh Childress, who scored 22 points Thursday against San Diego, was held to just five points on 2-7 shooting.
Justin Davis picked up the slack for Stanford, scoring 19 points against Connecticut after not registering a point against San Diego. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, his efforts were not enough to halt the Huskies’ second-half run.
“After giving up 44 (first-half points), we started making plays and big-time players stepped up and started playing big-time basketball,” head coach Jim Calhoun said of his Huskies’ second-half turnaround.
Stanford was held to just 30 points in the second half as the Huskies took good care of the basketball — they only committed four second-half turnovers while taking control of the boards.
“The No. 1 key is valuing the basketball,” Calhoun said. “We can’t throw the ball away. We were good, and that was a heck of a basketball game. I think in the second half we were just able to impose our will defensively.”
“[Connecticut] had 14 offensive rebounds in the second half and outrebounded us by 10,” Stanford head coach Mike Montgomery said. “We can’t let that happen. We didn’t shoot it quite as well. If we could’ve withstood the physical onslaught, maybe we could’ve done better.”
After a tumultuous season for the Huskies, a berth in the Sweet Sixteen has the Huskies thinking of a possible run to the national title.
“We had a lot of ups and downs this season,” Okafor said. “Right now we feel that we are reaching a high point and we want to keep playing the way we are right now because we are peaking at the right time.”
With the win, the Huskies head to the South regionals in San Antonio. The game will be a homecoming of sorts for Okafor, who is a Houston native.
“I’m thinking of it right now. It’s my homecoming,” Okafor said. “All my friends and family are going to have a chance to see me play. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”