March 8, 2002
By JIM O’CONNELL
AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK – Freshman Ben Gordon came up big again in his second Big East tournament game, this time leading No. 19 Connecticut to an 82-77 victory over Notre Dame on Friday night and a berth in the championship game.
The Huskies (23-6) will play No. 7 Pittsburgh, which beat No. 20 Miami 76-71, for the title on Saturday night, the first time the league’s division champions will meet this season.
The win was the Huskies’ eighth straight and it will be their ninth appearance in the championship game, four resulting in titles, the last in 1999 when they went on to win the national championship.
Gordon, whose 23 points in the 72-70 quarterfinal victory over Villanova included the game-winning 3-pointer with 11 seconds left, had 19 points and six assists Friday.
He scored four points and had an assist on the closing basket of the Huskies’ 10-0 run that broke open the close game and made it 59-59 with 6:35 to play.
Connecticut’s defense was exceptional during the run, holding Notre Dame (21-10) scoreless for 6:50, a span of eight possessions.
Caron Butler led Connecticut with 20 points, while Johnnie Selvie had 16.
Freshman Chris Thomas had 24 points and 10 assists for the Fighting Irish, including scoring their last 11 points over the final three minutes. Ryan Humphrey had 21 points and 16 rebounds, and Matt Carroll had 20 points.
Notre Dame and Connecticut hadn’t played each other this season and the teams were even for the first 28 minutes, until the Huskies’ went on the run.
Gordon hit a fadeaway jumper and added a driving floater for a 67-59, and he made a nice bounce pass to Selvie for the layup that capped the run. Gordon’s third 3-pointer gave Connecticut its biggest lead, 74-63, with 3:51 to play.
Thomas, who was 6-for-9 on 3-pointers, hit one with 57 seconds left and then added two free throws 20 seconds later to get Notre Dame within 78-74, but the Huskies went 5-for-6 from the free-throw line over the final 33 seconds to offset Thomas’ final 3 of the game.
Notre Dame, which beat St. John’s 83-63 in the quarterfinals, was making its first appearance in the semifinals.