Feb 24, 2003
By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Nearly untouchable at home, Notre Dame lost its poise. Connecticut had plenty to do with that.
UConn played a controlled game and hung on to beat No. 9 Notre Dame 87-79 Monday night after nearly blowing a 17-point second half lead.
“Usually we have a lot of unforced turnovers and that causes us to give the other team extra possessions and chances,” said Ben Gordon, who led the Huskies with 25 points and eight assists. “Tonight we cut that down and every time we touched the ball we did something good with it.”
They were good almost from the outset, which coach Jim Calhoun admitted was important.
“We wanted to come out and jump on them, and we were able to do that,” said Calhoun.
The loss was the first in 15 games at home for Notre Dame and ended its home winning streak at 17 games, its longest in 19 seasons. The victory was the second straight for the Huskies since Calhoun returned after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer on Feb. 3.
“We just kept our poise, kept collected and pulled off the win,” added Emeka Okafor, who had 19 points and 10 rebounds for UConn (18-6, 9-4 Big East), which moved two wins ahead of second-place Villanova in the East Division. The Irish (21-6, 9-4) fell a half-game behind Syracuse and Pittsburgh in the West Division.
Rashad Anderson, who finished with a career-high 22 points, made 5-of-7 3-pointers in the first half as the Huskies took control after the Irish made seven of their first 12 shots en route to a 17-10 lead early.
Then the Huskies held Notre Dame to 4-of-27 shooting (14.8 percent) the rest of the half and shot 50 percent during that span to open a 46-31 halftime lead.
The Irish simply couldn’t stop Connecticut. When Anderson wasn’t hitting 3-pointers, Okafor was scoring inside or Gordon was running around Irish defenders for layups.
“They hit big shot after big shot,” said Matt Carroll, who led Notre Dame with 28 points and seven rebounds. “Every time we came down and hit a shot, it felt like they came down and hit two – and a lot of those were 3s.”
The Irish got frustrated. Chris Thomas, who had 19 points and nine assists, became upset when he was hit hard under the basket by Okafor and no foul was called. After Gordon made a 3-pointer to give the Huskies a 31-23 lead, Thomas was given a technical foul for complaining and coach Mike Brey sat him for about five minutes.
“We weren’t composed to make a run in the first half,” Brey said. “It was going to come in the second.”
Gordon said the key was the UConn defense and the 3-pointers by Anderson, who averages 7.8 points a game.
“I really admire how he doesn’t have a conscience and will shoot at any time. That’s what we need,” Gordon said.
In the second half, the Irish closed to two points twice on 3-pointers by Thomas and Dan Miller, but could not get any closer. They appeared worn out by the frenetic pace UConn set.
“That was because of our defense and the way we pushed the ball,” Gordon said. “We take a lot of pride in our fastbreak offense.”
Thomas scored 14 of his 19 in the second half and Miller added 13 points for the Irish.
Notre Dame was held to a 37 percent shooting, while UConn shot 42 percent and outrebounded the Irish 51-42. The Huskies also had only 12 turnovers, their second fewest against Big East teams this year.
Calhoun was relieved with the victory.
“I’m fine, but show me a good couch and I’m ready,” Calhoun said.