No. 1 Connecticut 93, Nevada 79

Thursday, November 20th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut played its way to the Preseason NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden and the top-ranked Huskies needed both of their star players to get there.

Ben Gordon, considered one of the nation's best guards, scored a career-high 37 points in Wednesday night's 93-79 victory over Nevada in the quarterfinals. That came a night after center Emeka Okafor, the AP's preseason player of the year, had 21 points and 13 rebounds in a 70-60 first-round win over Yale.

``It was nice to have Emeka be so sensational the first game and Ben be sensational the second,'' UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. ``But the guy who's been pretty good both games has been Denham Brown.''

Brown, a sophomore swingman, had 15 points and eight rebounds against Yale and then scored a career-high 22 points against Nevada.

``Ben was the emotional and offense leader,'' Brown said. ``Scoring as many points as he did, that could get anybody pumped.''

The Huskies (2-0) will play the winner of Thursday's Georgia Tech-Hofstra second-round game. The other semifinal on Nov. 26 will have Utah, which beat Minnesota 66-54 on Wednesday, against the winner of Friday night's quarterfinal between Massachusetts and Texas Tech.

Gordon was well on his way to a career night Wednesday when the sellout crowd at Gampel Pavilion started chanting ``You can't stop him'' with 14 minutes to play.

Nevada needed no reminder.

``Ben was doing all the scoring, the cheerleading. It was the BG show tonight. The Ben Gordon showcase,'' said Okafor, who led the Huskies with 14 rebounds.

Unhappy with his 13-point performance in the tournament opener, Gordon said he was more mentally prepared against Nevada.

``I just sat in my room and meditated,'' Gordon said. ``I wanted to have a better performance and be more assertive.''

No matter what player Nevada put on Gordon, he had his way all night in front of a crowd of 10,167.

``I don't think it really would have mattered how they played me,'' Gordon said. ``I just had the right mind-set.''

Gordon was 12-of-20 from the field and hit all four of his 3-point attempts, rescuing the Huskies time and again from the stubborn Wolf Pack (1-1). With Gordon out after picking up his third foul, Nevada cut a 15-point deficit to nine on Todd Okeson's 3-pointer with three minutes to play in the game.

Enter Gordon.

The junior coolly stroked a 3-pointer and the Huskies had all the breathing room they would need. Brown converted a three-point play on the Huskies' next possession to cap the scoring.

``It's nice to see him have some confidence,'' Calhoun said of Gordon, whose previous career high was 32 points against Miami last season. ``When he gets going, he's unstoppable. Time ran out for him to get 50. He was on that kind of a roll.''

Okafor finished with 13 points and had solid help in the post from freshman Josh Boone, who had eight points and 11 rebounds. The Huskies dominated inside, outscoring Nevada 42-28 in the paint and had a 42-29 rebounding edge.

Kirk Snyder led Nevada with 22 points and Okeson added 16.

``When you play against someone of this caliber, if you make a mistake or two, they make you pay for it,'' Nevada coach Trent Johnson said. ``Bottom line is that Coach Calhoun has not got a good team, he's got a great team.''

Okafor was called for his second foul with 7:52 remaining in the first half and with him on the bench the rest of the half, Gordon took over. He scored 13 points in a 20-12 run and Connecticut led by as many as nine before taking a 43-37 halftime lead.

``Nevada is a really good team and really gave us a healthy test,'' Calhoun said. ``And that's what the Preseason NIT is all about.''