Feb 9, 2004
By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Chris Thomas and Chris Quinn finally played well together, and that was enough to beat No. 5 Connecticut.
Thomas scored 22 of his season-high 31 points in the second half and Quinn added 17 points to lead the Irish to an 80-74 victory over the Huskies, ending a three-game losing streak.
Thomas had been in a slump for six games before scoring 23 in a loss to No. 4 Pittsburgh on Saturday, when Quinn went 0-for-8. Against Connecticut, though, everything changed.
“We’ve been hearing that Chris Quinn and I can’t play good together on the same night, so we figured this is our last stand,” Thomas said. “We couldn’t take it anymore. We put it together and the whole team put it together.”
Torrian Jones added 14 points and pulled down 12 rebounds for the Irish (11-9, 5-5 Big East).
“Their perimeter guys dominated the basketball game,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. “They dominated us in every which way. That’s a pretty good indication they kicked our butts.”
Thomas, who was averaging just 11 points in the six games before Pitt – four of them losses – was 6-of-10 from 3-point range and 9-of-21 overall.
It marked the second time in less than a month that an Irish team upset a highly ranked UConn team. On Jan. 13, the unranked Notre Dame women beat No. 4 UConn 66-51. Just as they had at that game, the Irish students flooded the court to celebrate.
What made the victory even more surprising was that UConn (19-4, 7-2) had won five straight, while the Irish had lost five of seven.
“Tonight was a special night, not only for myself, but the team and the program,” Thomas said. “The guys in here worked so hard and come in the locker room after three or four straight games and just felt empty inside. This was huge.”
Emeka Okafor led UConn with 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting and added nine rebounds. Ben Gordon scored 22 for the Huskies.
“We didn’t play well enough for a win,” Okafor said.
Notre Dame held the Huskies to five fast-break points in the game, none in the second half, but Calhoun thought that statistic was wrong.
“But we probably didn’t have 10 points on the fast break,” he said. “We weren’t running the fastbreak. We had seven points on the fast break to start the game, then we didn’t run.”
Thomas and the Irish slowed the pace down by repeatedly shooting with five seconds or less left on the shot clock in the second half.
“Chris Thomas really quarterbacked the tempo offensively,” Irish coach Mike Brey said.
But Thomas answered with a 3-pointer 18 seconds later, and the Irish never trailed again.The game was close throughout, with the Huskies leading by six twice and the Irish leading 60-53 when Thomas hit a 3-pointer with 10:42 to go. The Huskies tied the score at 69 when Okafor scored inside with 3:06 left.
“Chris had a tremendous game,” Calhoun said. “He was big, really big. He made big shots. When it was 69-69 he made a super big shot – one of our players decided it was not a good time to go after him. You’re not going to win basketball games that way.”
Quinn made a free throw and Tom Timmermans hit a pair of free throws with 49 seconds left to make it 75-69.