- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

When Denham Brown’s shot bounced three times off the rim before falling through the net — allowing Connecticut to force overtime against George Mason yesterday at Verizon Center — Jim Calhoun thought the Huskies were in an ideal position.

In overtime. … Against a team that had seen a four-point lead with 17.6 seconds remaining evaporate and had three starters playing with four fouls. … And less than 48 hours after Connecticut hit a 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left to force overtime against Washington.

“We had dodged a bullet,” Calhoun said. “I thought, ‘We’re in pretty good shape right now.’ We had new life. We needed an adrenaline shot, and we got it.”

But unlike Friday night against Washington, Connecticut couldn’t keep the momentum, falling to George Mason 86-84 in the Washington regional championship game when Brown’s 3-pointer bounced away, triggering bedlam among the predominately George Mason crowd.

The top-seeded Huskies missed six of their eight shots — including four of five 3-point attempts — in overtime.

Connecticut, looking for its third national championship since 1999, ended its season 30-4. Rudy Gay had 20 points, and Marcus Williams was again brilliant (13 points, 11 assists).

Connecticut became the first No. 1 to lose to a double-digit seed since Kentucky lost to 11th-seed LSU in a 1986 regional final.

Villanova’s loss to Florida last night meant no top seeds are in the Final Four for the first time since 1980, when the tournament was 48 teams.

“This is a team I thought could get to the national championship game,” Williams said. “But we made some mistakes and paid the price.”

UConn actually made fewer miscues than against Washington. Connecticut had a season-high 26 turnovers against Washington and only nine against George Mason.

The Huskies used a 15-2 run late in the first half to lead 43-31. Connecticut scored on five straight possessions — four 3-pointers and a three-point play. The lead was nine points at halftime.

Connecticut’s biggest lead of the second half was 47-38 with 17:50 remaining. George Mason answered with an 11-2 run to tie the score at 49-49.

In the final minutes, the Huskies trailed 71-67 with 1:08 remaining, but Williams scored five points, and Brown’s acrobatic layup at the buzzer forced overtime.

“I was yelling, ‘Don’t touch it! It’s going to go in,’” Calhoun said.

Connecticut never trailed against Washington in overtime Friday but never led against George Mason.

“It’s upsetting that after all the hard work we’ve done, we have to rely on one shot every game,” Brown said of his potential game-winner. “We made a lot of mistakes throughout the course of the game, but I should have hit that shot regardless.”

Several factors contributed to the Huskies’ undoing: Seven-for-22 3-point shooting, allowing 15 offensive rebounds and letting George Mason big men Jai Lewis and Will Thomas combine for 39 points and 19 rebounds.

Calhoun pointed to Williams (41 minutes) getting worn down in overtime because of George Mason’s pressure and Connecticut’s lack of a second solid ball-handler.

“I said all year that we play wings and big guys and have one guard,” Calhoun said. “I think people had this misconception that if you have three 6-10 kids, all of a sudden you have a good basketball team. If that was the case, then you would get five centers and win every game by rolling out the ball and dunking it.

“The game takes a couple guys who can create plays, and our wings are guys who can rebound and make shots but aren’t creative to make people better at times. What Mason had today was three guards, all the time, who could go by you.”

Connecticut’s future is uncertain with the departure of seniors Hilton Armstrong and Rashad Anderson and, if they opt for the NBA, Gay and Williams.

“I thought this team could have done a lot more things,” Gay said. “I definitely thought we could go all the way, and for us to fall like this, it hurts.”

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