SAN ANTONIO - At first, it seemed like such a good sign for Georgia Tech. Junior forward/guard B.J. Elder, rendered so ineffective for the past three NCAA tournament games with a foot injury, was bouncing around the floor in the opening minutes with his customary energy.
Elder, perhaps due to some championship game nerves, missed his first three shots, including a three-pointer, a 12-footer and a runner. Then, Elder made a three-pointer to cut Connecticut's early lead to 9-7 four minutes into the game.
But there would be no magical return to form by Georgia Tech's leading scorer, who had scored two points in his previous games with limited playing time. Elder stayed cold for most of the half, hitting only a turnaround baseline jumper with 6:23 left to cut the Huskies' lead to 32-20.
Elder would shoot 2-for-8 in the half, which ended with the Yellow Jackets trailing 41-26, marking the third-largest halftime deficit in NCAA title game history. Elder never re-discovered his shooting touch, and his ability to drive was limited by the presence of Connecticut center.
Elder finished with 14 points on 4-for-15 shooting.
"I just came out and tried to play the type of game I've been playing all season," Elder said. "But tonight the ball just didn't fall for me."
New York state of mind
Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt is still very much a New Yorker, from his accent to his body language to his favorite pro team. Though he gets kidded about the plight of the Knicks these days, the NBA team's rich history is still a part of the approach Hewitt takes in teaching his Yellow Jackets.
"Most people don't appreciate the way the game is supposed to be played," Hewitt said yesterday, as he got Georgia Tech ready for the first NCAA championship game in school history. "I always talk about my New York roots. The old New York Knicks hit the open man."
While in high school on Long Island, Hewitt got to meet one of his idols, late Knicks coach Red Holzman, and has tried to get his current players to understand how the Knicks, led by Atlanta native Walt Frazier, epitomized the share-the-ball philosophy that seems to have become a lost part of the game.
"It's getting harder and harder [to teach]," Hewitt said.
And for Hewitt, it's even harder to watch.
"In the NBA, it used to be, growing up, the Knicks vs. the Bullets, the Bucks vs. the Celtics," Hewitt said. "Now it's Shaq vs. Yao Ming. What's that? That's not basketball. That's tennis. I'm serious, that's what's wrong with our game today. It's no longer a team sport."
His players have bought into Hewitt's philosophy, which stems from watching the 1973 Knicks win a championship a few years after Hewitt's family had moved from Jamaica.
Travels with Charlie
A year ago, Charlie Villanueva was getting ready to leave Blair Academy, a prep school in New Jersey, for the next phase of his basketball career: the NBA.
Villanueva, considered one of the country's most promising big men, had committed orally to Illinois, but had chosen to try out for some NBA scouts when Bill Self left for Kansas.
It didn't take long for Villanueva to figure out he wasn't ready for the pros. Not all of Villanueva's decision had to do with basketball.
"I wasn't ready to live a man's world," Villanueva said.
Although his visit to IMG's sports academy in Florida nearly cost Villanueva his college eligibility after he accepted some benefits but did not sign with an agent, Villanueva is happy he chose Connecticut.
"This is where I am, and I'm enjoying every moment of it," said Villanueva, who after sitting out the first six games while his eligibility issue was resolved has provided a capable backup to junior center Emeka Okafor and freshman Josh Boone (South Carroll). "This is where I wanted to be."
Three players in tonight's game have ties to Maryland. So the question needs to be asked: Did any of them seriously consider playing in College Park?
Jack did for a while, and was a fan of Terps teams during the mid-1990s that featured Keith Booth and Joe Smith. Jack grew up in Fort Washington, the same hometown of former Maryland guard Duane Simpkins.
Simpkins talked to Jack about following him from DeMatha, where Jack played his freshman year, to Maryland. During the summer before Jack's senior year, Gary Williams and his staff recruited him.
"They were throwing at me kind of hard," Jack recalled yesterday. "I really didn't need to stay home because things at home might have gotten me unfocused."
Georgia Tech teammate Marvin Lewis was the last recruit of former Yellow Jackets coach Bobby Cremins, but he wasn't on Maryland's recruiting radar during his last two years at Montrose Christian in Germantown while the Terps were after another player.
"They were recruiting Tamir Goodman," Lewis said.
Goodman, who played at Talmudical Academy in Baltimore, became nationally known after being offered a scholarship by Williams. Goodman wound up at Towson after it became apparent that he didn't fit into Maryland's plans. Goodman left Towson in the middle of his sophomore year and is now playing professionally in Israel.
Connecticut's Boone spent most of his childhood in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and didn't move to Mount Airy until he was in high school at South Carroll. A late bloomer, Boone wasn't heavily recruited until he spent a year in prep school at West Nottingham Academy in Cecil County.