The Associated Press
SAN ANTONIO ? Emeka Okafor had to wait ? and wait ? to take over Connecticut's biggest game of the season.
Foul trouble kept the unanimous All-America center on the bench for almost half of the Huskies' 79-78 victory over Duke on Saturday night in the national semifinals.
When coach Jim Calhoun put him back in the game for good with three fouls and 14 minutes to play, the 6-foot-10 junior took over and Connecticut will play for the national championship for the second time in six years. The Huskies face Georgia Tech for the title Monday night.
It couldn't have been easy for Calhoun to have his best player sitting close by for so long, but he kept him there as long as he had to.
Okafor had two fouls in the opening 3:55 and didn't play again in the first half. He picked up his third foul four minutes into the second half and was back by Calhoun's side and didn't get back in the game until there was 14:23 to play. He finished with 18 points, all but one in those closing 14 minutes, and seven rebounds, all but one in the second half.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski faced the same predicament as Calhoun. His center, Shelden Williams, got his second foul with 7:59 left in the first half. Krzyzewski left him in the game and he picked up his third with 3:04 remaining before halftime.
Williams got his fourth foul 4:38 into the second half. He was out of the game for almost 10 minutes, the time Okafor began to dominate. Williams wasn't back very long when he fouled out with 5:04 to play.
Duke took advantage of Okafor's absence in the first half to get 30 points in the paint. The Blue Devils' total for the game inside was 44. That's the kind of difference the nation's leading shot-blocker can make.
The Blue Devils took 71 shots, 19 more than Connecticut, and were just 6-for-22 from 3-point range. They scored 23 points off the 18 turnovers they forced but only six came in the second half, when Okafor began to stand out.
Georgia Tech came out with a different strategy against Oklahoma State, and the Yellow Jackets kept on adjusting during their 67-65 victory.
The first half saw Georgia Tech stay outside, going 7-for-13 from 3-point range in taking a 37-30 lead. The Yellow Jackets averaged just over five 3s per game in the tournament in reaching the Final Four for the first time since 1990. Marvin Lewis had that many by himself in the first 20 minutes, going 5-for-8 and scoring all 15 of his points.
When Oklahoma State changed the way it defended on the perimeter ? as any team coached by Eddie Sutton would ? Georgia Tech started going inside to 7-foot center Luke Schenscher.
By getting the ball into the native of Australia, the Yellow Jackets were able to take advantage of the lack of help provided by the Oklahoma State guards, who were worried about defending the 3-point line.
Schenscher was able to score again and again against a lone defender getting 12 of his 19 points in the second half, negating Georgia Tech's 0-for-4 performance from 3-point range in the second half.
"With Marvin just to be able to get off to a start like that we were pretty stagnant on offense," Schenscher said. "He just stepped up and made those huge shots for us and I think that's what helped, especially my game inside, because no one could help off him when he was making all those shots. He drew all the defense out. He may not have been scoring much later on, but he was definitely freeing it up for the other guys on the team."
Oklahoma State was effective inside the whole game on the offensive end with forwards Joey Graham and Ivan McFarlin getting 17 and 16 points, respectively. But the Cowboys struggled with their outside shooting, going 4-for-15 on 3s. They weren't making many mid-range jumpers either.
Oklahoma State entered the game shooting 51.5 percent from the field, but the Cowboys shot just 39 percent in the first half and 44 percent for the game.
Georgia Tech's defense had yet another solid outing in the tournament holding Oklahoma State 12 points below its season average. The Yellow Jackets had a 10-point lead in the second half but John Lucas, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the regional finals against Saint Joseph's, nailed a 3 with 26 seconds left to tie the game for the first time.