March 17, 2006
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - An overwhelming underdog in its first NCAA tournament appearance, Albany nearly pulled off an historic upset over Connecticut.
In the end, the Huskies' skill and experience was too much for the Great Danes.
Marcus Williams scored a season-high 21 points and Denham Brown added 17, helping top-seeded Connecticut overcome a 12-point, second-half deficit to beat 16th-seeded Albany 72-59 on Friday night.
Connecticut (28-3) plays Sunday against the winner of the Kentucky-UAB game in the second round of the Washington Regional.
Jamar Wilson had 19 points and Kirsten Zoellner and Lucious Jordan each had 12 for Albany (21-11).
A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. But Albany played like it belonged on the same floor with one of the nation's perennial powerhouse programs. No one thought Albany could match Connecticut's depth and talent - except for the Great Danes.
An upstate New York institution of 16,000, Albany never had a winning season in nine years at the Division I level until now, and finished 5-23 just two years ago.
But Albany led 50-38 points 8 1/2 minutes into the second half, before the Huskies went on a 20-4 run.
Josh Boone started it with a layup, Williams hit a 3-pointer and went end-to-end for a layup following a turnover as Connecticut closed to 50-45.
After Jordan made a spinning shot for Albany, Brown hit a 3-pointer, Jeff Adrien got a dunk and Brown tied it at 52 with two free throws.
A 3-pointer by Williams from the left circle gave Connecticut a 55-52 lead with 5:48 left and the Huskies never trailed again.
Williams' fifth 3-pointer put Connecticut ahead 61-55, and Brown made another 3 to extend the lead to 66-55.
A 21 1/2-point favorite, Connecticut only led 31-30 at halftime. A 13-0 run early in the second half gave Albany a 43-33 lead.
Zoellner scored on a put-back, electrifying the purple-and-yellow clad section of the crowd. With Albany fans chanting, "You can't break us," Jason Siggers nailed a 3-pointer to cap the run and give the Great Danes a 10-point lead almost 6 minutes in.
On the same court earlier, 16th-seeded Monmouth pushed top-seeded Villanova before losing 58-45 in the Minneapolis Regional.
The Great Danes did even better than the Hawks.
Jordan hit a 3-pointer from the top of the circle for Albany's first points 2:59 into the game, and the Great Danes took a 9-3 lead. Connecticut committed nine turnovers before Albany had one, but led 16-15 at that point.
Connecticut was No. 1 in The Associated Press poll for five weeks this season. In the previous nine years, the Huskies won 22 games in the NCAA tournament, including two national titles (1999 and 2004).
Connecticut, ranked second in the final poll, averaged 81.3 points a game this season in finishing as co-champions of the Big East. The Huskies lost to Syracuse in overtime in the quarterfinals of their conference tournament but were still chosen as a No. 1 seed for the fourth time.
That resume alone might have been enough to fluster some teams.
The Great Danes weren't intimidated.