Jan. 2, 2010
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun was looking for somebody to step up and help stars Stanley Robinson and Jerome Dyson with the scoring load.
Nobody expected that somebody to be Charles Okwandu.
The junior center, who had never scored more than two points in a game, hit all five of his shots Saturday and finished with 10 points to help No. 10 UConn beat Notre Dame 82-70 on Saturday.
“I feel like this game brought me out of my shell,” Okwandu said. “It really built my confidence.”
Robinson scored 22 points and grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds and Dyson added 20 points, 16 in the second half, and 10 assists for UConn (10-3, 1-1 Big East). Kemba Walker had 11 points and 10 assists, only the second time in school history two players have reached double digits in assists in the same game.
Gavin Edwards chipped in with 13 points. But Calhoun called it a breakout game for Okwandu, who missed the last half of last season with academic issues.
“We got our spark from Charles,” Calhoun said. He “made us more physical.”
Luke Harangody scored 31 points and grabbed nine rebounds for Notre Dame (12-3, 1-1), which lost for the first time in four games.
Ben Hansbrough, the brother of former North Carolina star forward Tyler, had 14 points and Tyrone Nash added 11 for the Irish, who were playing their first true road game of the season. Notre Dame’s only other games outside South Bend were in the Chicago Invitational Challenge in November.
“I feel pretty good about my group, first time on the road,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “We came back. We answered some big punches from a good team.”
There were 17 lead changes in the game, and UConn didn’t take control until late in the second half.
Okwandu sparked the Huskies early, and he brought the crowd into the game when he blocked Harangody on a drive and pinned the ball between the rim and the backboard. His layup at the other end gave UConn a 50-42 lead.
“He did shock us a little bit,” said Brey. “They can run a lot of bodies at you like that and wear you down, and then he happened to really deliver.
Harangody brought the Irish back, and his jumper midway through the half gave Notre Dame a 54-53 lead.
UConn responded with a 13-2 run, but led just 68-62 with 3:48 left when Dyson picked up his fourth foul.
Notre Dame’s Tory Jackson missed the front end of a 1 and 1, and after a timeout, the Huskies finished the game by scoring 16 of the final 24 points.
“On the defensive end, we stepped it up and really played together,” Robinson said. “Our bench players played great.”
UConn blocked 11 Notre Dame shots, after failing to record a blocked shot on Wednesday for the first time since Jan. 30, 2001. The Huskies lead the nation with more than nine blocks a game.
Notre Dame jumped out to a 10-4 lead, capitalizing on five early UConn turnovers.
Edwards and Okwandu helped lead the Huskies back, scoring 15 of the Huskies’ first 26 points, and helping UConn to a 34-32 halftime lead.
Notre Dame’s Tim Abromaitis, who came in averaging over 16 points, had just eight for the Irish. Abromaitis is from nearby Farmington, and his father starred at UConn.
“I didn’t feel any extra pressure,” he said. “Maybe I didn’t get to the ball enough. My shots weren’t really dropping. I think they played pretty good defense.”
The Huskies lost at Cincinnati on Wednesday and haven’t had consecutive conference losses to start the season in 20 years.
“We definitely needed this one,” Dyson said. “We kind of made this a team game today. It wasn’t just one person here and there.”