- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2002

N.C. State's Wolfpack know there is a shot-swatting machine Connecticut's 6-foot-9 freshman center Emeka Okafor waiting for them if they venture into the paint today.
There's no way N.C. State coach Herb Sendek is going to expose his team to such rejection. When the seventh-seeded Wolfpack play No.2 Connecticut in the second round of the NCAA East Region at MCI Center, they're likely to keep a safe distance from Okafor.
"Our scheme is not one of putting our backs to the basket, so we really won't deal with him in one-on-one situations," N.C. State point guard Archie Miller said. "He can alter a game and deflate people's confidence."
Okafor did so in UConn's 78-67 first-round victory over Hampton, when he batted five of Hampton's shots practically into Ward 8. Not only did Okafor act as a human eraser, he pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds and dropped in 12 points.
"We tried to recruit Emeka Okafor, and so we are very aware of his talent and ability," Sendek said. "When you stop to think that he is averaging over four blocked shots per game as a freshman, that is staggering. His presence in the middle for Connecticut is invaluable."
To say the least. Okafor, a Houston native who has the wingspan of a 757, broke the Huskies' single-season record for blocked shots. Through 31 games, he has a total of 132, a 4.26 average. Okafor also fell one block shy of the freshman record of 71 in Big East games held by Georgetown's Alonzo Mourning.
N.C. State likes to bring its post players away from the basket anyway. Marcus Melvin (6-8) and Josh Powell (6-9) are really power forwards who masquerade as centers. But they also are good ballhandlers who will set up at the top of the key.
"The fact that they bring their post players out will prevent me from blocking as many shots," Okafor said. "I don't know how it will affect my game. Every game is different. I will just have to adjust when the time comes knowing when and where to go for a block."
On defense, the Wolfpack will have to contend with UConn's scoring leader Caron Butler, a 6-7 sophomore forward who averages 19.5 points and was Big East Player of the Year.
From a scoring standpoint, Butler is the complete package. He can stroke 3s, is excellent on the offensive glass, drives to the basket with utmost authority and posts up from the baseline. Whenever things break down or go bad for the Huskies, they always go straight to Butler UConn's money man.
"I don't think there is one aspect of offensive basketball that he doesn't excel at," Sendek said.
The Wolfpack can counter Butler with senior guard Anthony Grundy, their leading scorer at 17.8. The 6-3 Grundy is smaller than Butler but has the same refined offensive game.
With fifth-year senior Miller running N.C. State's point, the Wolfpack have sound leadership in the backcourt.
"The greatest gifts as a team they have is, first, they have two veteran seniors who really run their team," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "Second, they have big guys who can really handle the ball and shoot. Third, they can play three or four different ways, and that makes it much more difficult to play any team. They are a very pragmatic team. They can spread you, slowing it, and make that same offense go quicker."


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