Two Techs battle for Preseason NIT crown

Friday, November 28th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt is fond of calling B.J. Elder college basketball's best kept secret. Now, the secret is out.

Elder helped Tech take apart No. 1 Connecticut in a surprisingly easy 77-61 victory and now the Yellow Jackets face Texas Tech in Friday's Preseason NIT championship game. The Red Raiders advanced by defeating Utah 65-54.

``I just want to come out and be aggressive and try to attack the whole game,'' said Elder, who scored 22 points against UConn, reaching double figures for the 29th time in his last 33 games.

And about that best kept secret business?

``I just take it in stride,'' he said. ``I don't think it's going to be a secret anymore.''

Hewitt challenged Elder in the days before Georgia Tech faced Connecticut.

``I was teasing him last week,'' the coach said, preparing him to face UConn's Ben Gordon. ``I said, `You're going to go out and play against one of the best 2-guards in the country and I expect you to go out there and outplay him.'''

Elder followed orders, limiting Gordon to nine shots and 13 points. As his reward he gets to face Texas Tech in the title game. The Red Raiders practice defense first because coach Bob Knight believes games are won and lost in their own end of the court.

``You have to start with defensive play,'' Knight said. ``If you don't have good defense, then you've got to score two buckets for every one you give up. It's usually defense that's enabling the offense to get a lead.

``So what I've tried to do, with varying degrees of success, I've tried to make sure that our defense is something that enables our offense to win a game.''

And, like Georgia Tech's Elder, that's no secret.

Coaches are fond of saying that they don't know much about their teams at this stage of the season. Hewitt and Knight learned a little bit more in their semifinal wins.

Hewitt found out that Georgia Tech won't be intimidated by fancy rankings and that Elder and Isma'il Muhammad, who also had 22, can be big-time scorers for him. He knows his team will only get better when Arizona transfer Will Bynum becomes eligible next month.

Knight learned that Texas Tech can deal with deliberate teams like Utah and play defense up to his high standards.

``We can do some things that make it difficult for you to run and we had been a team that in our first couple of ballgames really pushed the ball up the floor,'' Knight said. ``I didn't think we'd be able to do that (against Utah) and I was very interested in seeing how our team would react, particularly on the defensive end in a patient game. I thought we reacted pretty well.''

So did Georgia Tech, running with abandon and taking advantage of a sub-par Emeka Okafor, who was hobbled by an aching back that limited him to nine points.

Hewitt knew the Yellow Jackets had caught a break with UConn coming out flat, seemingly disinterested in defending that top ranking.

``They are a great team,'' he said. ``They are going to be much better at the end. They are clearly one of the best teams in the country and at the end of the season, they are going to be right there.''

Against Georgia Tech, the Huskies were somewhere else.

``They imposed their will on us,'' Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. ``That's something we try to do upon other teams. I have to say I'm more than the most-surprised guy in the building, just how we didn't respond. To me, it's about will and toughness. You have to respond better than we did and we didn't respond very well at all. It scared me.''