Top-ranked UConn overcomes slow start
=== Top-ranked UConn overcomes slow start ===
Storrs, CT (Sports Network) - Emeka Okafor scored 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, leading top-ranked Connecticut to a 70-60 victory over Yale in the opening round of the Preseason NIT at Gampel Pavilion.
Denham Brown added 15 points and Ben Gordon chipped in 13 for the Huskies (1-0), who rebounded from a three-point halftime deficit to give head coach Jim Calhoun his 400th win at Connecticut.
"We pretty much expected this was going to be a grind," said Okafor. "We weren't going to come in and just blow this team out. We pretty much had a feeling that they were going to be playing the number 1 team and they were going to be pumped up. And that's what happened. In that first half, they came out and put it on us. We learned that it's not going to be an easy road. You learn from close games like this."
The Huskies will host Nevada, a 69-49 winner over Vermont, in the second round of the tournament on Wednesday. UConn has now won 52 straight games against foes from the state of Connecticut.
Dominick Martin and Edwin Draughan each scored 14 for Yale (0-1), which lost its 12th straight opener.
UConn trailed 31-28 at halftime and 35-34 early in the second half, but scored nine straight points to move in front for good.
A dunk by freshman Josh Boone started the run and four straight turnovers by Yale resulted in seven more Husky points. Okafor capped the burst with a three-point play and a put-back slam to give Connecticut a 43-35 lead with just over 14 minutes remaining.
A three-pointer by Gordon a few minutes later made it a 54-40 game and Yale never got it back under 10 until late in the contest. An Okafor dunk gave UConn a 63-47 lead with 6:37 to play and a three-pointer by Brown pushed it to 67-50 with just under five minutes left.
Draughan capped a Yale run of eight straight points to make it 67-58 with 1:47 remaining, but that was as close as the Bulldogs would get.
"We're going to have to work hard for every single thing that we do during the season," said Calhoun about his team being a target because of its status as No. 1. "We're a celebration ready to happen."
Yale played a strong first half and used a 7-0 run to grab a 23-20 lead with just over six minutes left. Martin scored four points during the spurt, capping it with a layup.
A jumper by Alex Gamboa with 4 1/2 minutes remaining gave the Bulldogs a 27-22 edge and they carried a 31-28 advantage to the intermission when Justin Simon's tip went in at the buzzer.
Yale took advantage of UConn miscues in the opening 20 minutes, scoring 13 points off turnovers. The Bulldogs also shot 43 percent to Connecticut's 38 percent.
"I thought we played pretty hard, and I thought we had a pretty good game plan going in," said Yale head coach James Jones. "The kids executed pretty well. At the start of the second half, a couple of things got away from us."
UConn improved to 72-29 all-time in season-openers, including 14-4 under Calhoun. The Huskies are 43-22 against Yale, winning the last 12 meetings. The Bulldogs last beat Connecticut on December 2, 1986 -- Calhoun's first season.
Yale fell to 57-51-1 in season-openers.UCONN YALE