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Boone, Anderson ready to replace Okafor, Gordon

NCAA Championship-UConn

SAN ANTONIO (AP) _ Josh Boone inside, Rashad Anderson outside.

It's not quite the combination of Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon _ yet.

While Okafor and Gordon led Connecticut to its second national championship with an 82-73 victory over Georgia Tech on Monday night, Boone and Anderson were right there, too, getting a first-hand view of what they must do to lead the Huskies to another title.

With coach Jim Calhoun saying afterward that Okafor and Gordon are ready to turn pro, Boone and Anderson could get their chance as soon as next season.

And they're ready for the challenge.

``We want to win another national championship,'' Boone said. ``With the players we have coming back and the recruits coming in, it's very possible.''

In the title game, Anderson, a sophomore, scored 18 points. Boone, a freshman, had nine points and six rebounds. Both started and played the majority of the game _ 31 minutes for Anderson, 29 for Boone.

Okafor led the way with 24 points and 15 rebounds, capping his run as the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Gordon had 21 points, 12 during the game-breaking run in the first half, and joined Okafor as unanimous picks on the all-tournament team.

Okafor has long been expected to turn pro after this season, even volunteering to take part in Senior Day to bid farewell to the home crowd. Gordon has said he'll decide in a few weeks, but his performance the last month may have raised his stock.

Calhoun certainly seems braced to be without them next season.

``I think they're ready for the NBA,'' Calhoun said. ``If they're in the position, they should leave because they're both incredible basketball players, have accomplished so much.''

Taliek Brown, the school's career assist leader, is leaving, too.

A senior, he replaced Khalid El-Amin, the point guard on UConn's first title team in 1999. Next year's ballhandler will try carrying on the tradition.

Even if Gordon returns, Boone and Anderson will be part of the core of the 2004-05 Huskies. And maybe '05-06, too.

The 6-foot-10 Boone is called ``Mek Jr.'' by teammates because of his similarities to Okafor. If he can make the same leap in production from his first to second seasons that Okafor made, then UConn really will be in great shape.

Anderson already has the outside stroke defenses fear and the personality teammates love. Calhoun often rides him hard, which program veterans know will only make him better.

Anderson hit at least five 3-pointers in six games this season. He made six 3s twice during the tournament, including the regional final against Alabama, and celebrated the last one by blowing on his finger as if he was knocking the smoke off a blazing gun barrel.

Also coming back are Charlie Villanueva, a freshman this season, and Hilton Armstrong, a sophomore. Both are long, lanky forwards who played seven minutes Monday night.

There's also sophomore forward Denham Brown, who started 27 games this season and played 19 minutes in the championship.

``We only hope to get better next year,'' Boone said.

Another key returnee is Calhoun, the coach who has lifted Connecticut up the elite level of Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina.

He found out this week he missed making the Hall of Fame by one vote. This victory could put him over the top next year _ and another solid season certainly wouldn't hurt.

Copyright 2018 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
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