SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- Emeka Okafor knows there's more to defense than just blocking shots. He proved it against Southern Illinois.
Okafor, a freshman who set a Connecticut record for blocked shots, limited Rolan Roberts to just two free throws in the final 17 1/2 minutes, leading the second-seeded Huskies to a 71-59 victory over the Salukis in an East Regional semifinal game Friday night.
"This year, I've learned playing defense isn't just blocking shots," Okafor said. "It's about positioning and using your body. Tonight, I didn't block a lot of shots but I played good position on him."
Okafor finished with nine points and six rebounds, but it was his defensive play against Roberts in the second half that provided a critical lift for the Huskies (27-6), who reached the final eight for the first time since winning the national title in 1999. Connecticut will face Maryland, a 78-68 winner over Kentucky, in Sunday's East Regional championship.
Roberts, who finished with 24 points, provided quite a challenge for Okafor.
"He was way better in person than he was on tape," Okafor said. "I don't want to say I underestimated him, but he surprised me. He came at me and knocked me off my feet. It took me a while to readjust.
"He was quick and strong but mostly he played with determination. I got a little more aggressive. I started feeding off his determination. I said, 'He's not going to score anymore," he said.
Led by Roberts, the Salukis (28-8) stayed in contention despite trailing by as many as 12 points.
"I just think we couldn't sleep on this team," said Caron Butler, who led Connecticut with 19 points. "They had good quality wins throughout their season. They were a dangerous team to play and we had to watch out for them."
The Salukis shot 1-for-14 from 3-point range, and Kent Williams scored just seven points, nine below his average. Jermaine Dearman added 17.
"When you shoot like that, there is nothing you can do. When you live by the 3, you die by the 3," said Southern Illinois' Stetson Hairston. "Our post guys did well, but our guards couldn't get going. The things we do well, we just couldn't get going."
Southern Illinois cut UConn's lead to 61-55 with 3:22 left, but were unable to complete the comeback.
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