After pulling off a 79-78 thriller over Duke Saturday, UConn now stands a victory away from capturing their second national title in the past six seasons.
Led by All-American center and Big East Player of the Year Emeka Okafor, the Huskies currently hold a 27-6 overall record and will enter tonight’s matchup with Georgia Tech as a five-point favorite.
Okafor serves as the pulse of a well-balanced and defensively sound Husky squad, as he ranks second on the team in scoring (17.5 ppg) and paces UConn in rebounding (11.4) and blocked shots (4.1).
Widely considered to be the Big East’s best shot-blocker and defensive big man since Patrick Ewing, Okafor gives UConn a dominating presence on the block and will be a focal point in tonight’s title game.
Complimenting Okafor in the Husky lineup against the Yellow Jackets will be fellow First-Team All Big East selection Ben Gordon.
Gordon is the most versatile and dangerous member of the Husky backcourt at the offensive end, scoring at a clip of 18.5 points per game, and when combined with Okafor gives UConn one of the most potent 1-2 punches in all of college basketball.
When Okafor was saddled with early foul trouble and subsequently forced to sit out much of Saturday’s matchup with the Blue Devils, Gordon stepped up and kept the Huskies within striking distance.
Once Okafor returned and Duke’s primary two centers fouled out, Gordon, Okafor and their Husky mates went on a 15-2 run to close out the contest and advance to tonight’s national title game.
Rounding out UConn’s starting lineup are freshman forward Josh Boone and guards Rashad Anderson and Taliek Brown.
Boone, like Okafor, is an athletic shot blocker and runs the floor extremely well for a big man. His style of play fit in nicely with Coach Calhoun’s squad, as he’s an outstanding defender and is extremely effective on the glass.
In UConn’s Sweet 16 victory over Vanderbilt, Boone held the Commodores leading scorer Matt Freije, who entered the game averaging 18 points per game, to just 12 points on 3-of-19 shooting.
While Okafor will likely be matched up on Georgia Tech’s Luke Schenscher, who scored 19 points and pulled down 12 rebounds during the Yellow Jackets’ win over Oklahoma State Saturday, Boone could see some minutes guarding “Big Luke” and will play a crucial role in tonight’s title game.
In the Husky backcourt, Anderson and Brown provide Calhoun’s club with a pair of floor-savvy and defensively strong guards.
Anderson, a 6-foot-5 sophomore from Lakeland, Fl., contributes 11.1 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. In Saturday’s win over Duke, he scored 14 points on 3-of-5 shooting and knocked down each of his five free throw attempts.
As the lone senior on the team who garners considerable playing time, Anderson’s backcourt mate Brown provides Coach Calhoun’s squad with a leader on the floor.
He scores just 6.2 points per game, but Brown’s ability to lock down his assignment at the defensive end make him an invaluable asset to UConn’s starting line.
Off the bench, the only Huskies that receive a significant amount of playing time are freshman forward Charlie Villanueva and sophomore forward Denham Brown.
Villanueva and Brown are both capable scorers and create matchup problems for a number of teams because of their length and athleticism.
They each chipped in eight points in UConn’s win Saturday, and will be looked upon to provide key minutes during tonight’s game.
The Huskies began the season as the No. 1-ranked team in the country. With a victory in the Alamo Dome tonight, Okafor and the Huskies would finish where they started and cap off one of the most impressive tournament runs in recent memory. Only time will tell if they’ll ultimately complete the feat, or whether it’ll be the Yellow Jackets wearing the glass slipper.