UConn is still the one

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LANDOVER -- The Washington Whammy stared them in the eye last night, but the Connecticut Huskies never blinked.

The nation's newest top-ranked college basketball team fought off Georgetown's determined upset bid with composure and excellent foul shooting and survived its visit to Washington area, 91-85, before 17,690 at USAir Arena.

Connecticut (20-1, 13-0) thus avoided the hex that had struck down the two previous No. 1 teams, Massachusetts (at George Washington) and North Carolina (at Maryland) within a week.

"There was a lot of talk about No. 1s losing in the D.C. area," said Huskies forward Ray Allen. "We wanted to prove to everybody that we were legit."

UConn did that by extending its Big East record to 18 straight regular-season victories. It was also the Huskies' ninth consecutive league win on the road.

There was ample opportunity for Connecticut to join the ranks of the recently fallen against a Georgetown club that had lost its three previous starts and had dropped out of the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time this season.

After getting an offensive lift from reserve forward Boubacar Aw (career-high 17 points) to stay within four at the half, the Hoyas came out smoking after the break.

Allen Iverson, limited to six first-half points on 1-for-8 shooting, led the charge as the Hoyas twice roared to eight-point advantages, the last at 52-44.

Connecticut had a chance to crumble at that stage of the game, but Allen refused to comply. The Big East's leading scorer accounted for seven straight and nine of 11 Huskies points to halt the Hoyas' stampede.

Then, the Huskies patiently and calmly dissected the Hoyas with trapping defenses, clutch baskets by Allen and backup center Eric Hayward and nine straight free throws down the stretch.

"They are poised," said Georgetown coach John Thompson. "At one point we could have taken them out but we made some crucial turnovers. We'll grow out of that.

"It's disappointing to lose a game we could have and should have won. But when you lose your concentration, a team like this takes advantage."

Georgetown (14-7, 7-6) certainly showed no quit either and was still within 85-83 with 23 seconds left. But Doron Sheffer and Kevin Ollie combined for six consecutive free throws to put it away for the Huskies, who shot a crisp 27-for-32 from the line.

"They did some good things when they had to," said Iverson, who finished with 29 points, eight rebounds, nine assists and three steals despite the sluggish start.

"We weren't intimidated at all; they just won the game. We didn't look at them as No. 1. We just played. To me, you're not No. 1 until you win the national championship."

The Huskies were supposed to suffer this season after last year's star, Donyell Marshall, turned pro. Syracuse and Georgetown were the preseason picks to dominate the league.

"I never thought I'd say that this team might be better than last year's, but that might be true," Thompson said of UConn.

Connecticut finished with five players scoring in double figures and received two important baskets down the stretch from center Travis Knight, who was held to five points.

The team thus has prospered during a crucial part of its schedule that included consecutive visits to Syracuse (a 77-70 victory Sunday) and Georgetown.

"We knew we had some work to do in that 48-hour period," said Huskies coach Jim Calhoun. "We were going against two of our three best opponents on the road.

"It's satisfying to win this one because we like to play John's style of basketball. You really want to beat somebody you have great respect for."

The defeat now puts pressure on the Hoyas to unleash a strong finish and impress the NCAA tournament committee. It won't be easy.

They have three road games left in the league, plus Villanova to play here.

But their chore won't be anything like the hysteria the Huskies live with daily in basketball-mad Connecticut, where the men's and women's top-ranked teams reside.

"Knowing those people up in Connecticut, they haven't done a thing if they don't go to the Final Four," said Thompson. "If they don't, they will rip those kids to death."

According to Allen, the team has a philosophical view of it all.

"We have to prove things to people all season long, not just in one game," he said. "I think everybody on the team is real positive and looks at it as part of our job. We just go out and do it."

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