UCONN MAKES SHORT WORK OF DEPAUL
By RODNEY McKISSIC
No. 2 seed Connecticut's opening-round victory over Vermont was mildly disappointing to coach Jim Calhoun because of the Huskies' slow start and lack of energy.
Calhoun made it clear the Huskies wouldn't last long against No. 7 seed DePaul if they produced a similar effort.
Apparently, the message got through, even if Calhoun missed most of the ending.
Calhoun left Saturday's game with an upset stomach with about 11 minutes left, but UConn was well in control and cruised to a 72-55 victory over the Blue Demons in the NCAA Tournament in HSBC Arena to advance to the Sweet 16 in Phoenix.
UConn, which won the national championship in 1999, plays Thursday against the winner of today's Vanderbilt-North Carolina State game.
This is UConn's 10th appearance in the Sweet 16.
The Huskies (29-6) never trailed by less than 17 in the second half, and they led by as much as 23 early. Calhoun spent most of the second half in the locker room.
He said he was sweating and drank lots of water before leaving the bench with 11 minutes left.
"We jumped on them today because they were a very good basketball team," said Calhoun, who returned to the game with 1:54 left and UConn winning by 21. "We're two games away from where we want to be.
Whether we get there or not who knows, but we know we're going to Phoenix."
The Huskies, who led from tip to buzzer, dominated the Blue Demons, who are coached by former UConn assistant Dave Leitao. He also played for Calhoun at Northeastern during the late 1970s and early '80s.
He spent 16 years with Calhoun as an assistant. The two exchanged pleasantries after the game.
"He said to me, 'If you're going to kick my (butt) like that you should at least hang around,' " Calhoun said. "I said, 'It's only a matter of time if I keep doing this that you're going to kick my (butt).' "
Calhoun left with UConn comfortably ahead, 53-36, and third-year assistant coach George Blaney took over. The Huskies didn't stop inflicting pain.
UConn guard Ben Gordon asserted himself offensively, finishing with 18 points and four assists to lead four Huskies in double figures. Denham Brown came off the bench to score 12 points, Taliek Brown added 11 and Emeka Okafor added 10.
Okafor also had 12 rebounds and two blocks.
"We're a very deep team, and when we have other people than the starting five contributing then we're pretty hard to beat," Gordon said.
Guard Drake Diener led DePaul with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Delonte Holland and Quemont Greer each added 12 points, and Andre Brown finished with 11.
But DePaul shot just 20 of 59 from the field (33.9 percent) for the game and 9 of 33 by halftime, when UConn led, 39-20.
UConn and DePaul combined to miss their first 15 shots before Taliek Brown scored the game's first basket on a putback nearly four minutes into the game. The crowd of 18,686 let out a sarcastic cheer. But Brown's basket jump-started UConn.
The Huskies scored the next nine points while DePaul continued to struggle offensively, going 0 for 10 before Diener knocked down a three as UConn led, 11-3.
Part of the reason for the Blue Demons' struggles was the Huskies' suffocating defense, which didn't permit many clean looks. It was nail-hammering time for UConn.
"We just wanted to come out and attack," Gordon said. "We did a good job with that. We wanted to bring more emotion into the game than we did when we played Vermont, and that's something we did a better job of."
The Huskies took an 18-7 lead after a Gordon three-pointer, then went to score the next nine points as the Blue Demons sank deeper into an offensive funk. When UConn led, 27-9, the Blue Demons were 4 of 21 from the field with five turnovers.
"In the first 10, 15 or 18 minutes, we were really special," Calhoun said. "We were the kind of team I know we can be."
Near the end of the half, DePaul responded with an 8-0 run that left Calhoun incensed because of poor interior defense. But his anger subsided on the Huskies' final two possessions of the half.
Denham Brown dipped into the lane and was sealed off from the basket, but he found Josh Boone for a two-handed jam. UConn ran a similar play on its next possession, but this time Gordon found Boone.
"When you're in a one-loss-and-out tournament and you don't play your best basketball and you suffer a loss, then obviously it hurts," Leitao said. "And you go home."