STORRS, Conn. – Seton Hall had Connecticut down three with six-plus minutes left, before the Huskies found themselves in what might be the type of run it needs going forward.
Turnovers, run-outs and conversions on the other end of fast-break baskets led to a 9-0 UConn streak to push the Huskies up six on Seton Hall. The Pirates would trim the lead to two and had a few more possessions, but couldn't quite pull off the upset bid in a 71-63 loss.
The upset didn’t occur because UConn did what it does best: it rebounded, defended and scored in transition when the game mattered most.
If the Huskies are to reach their full potential this season, they must become this type of disruptive team for more than a brief few-minute stretch late in the game. The spurts are in them, but they haven’t been put together in consistent bunches yet.
Now is the time.
“We just clamped down when we had to win a basketball game,’’ UConn coach Jim Calhoun said of the 9-0 run.
Calhoun praised the potential of the Pirates, especially rebounding machine Herb Pope (14 boards in 24 minutes), and noted how much Seton Hall could cause fits going forward. But he also said if the Huskies can put together 40 minutes, they will be “a very good basketball team.’’
UConn is flawed without the veteran pieces of a year ago: the shot-blocker Hasheem Thabeet, the iron man Jeff Adrien and the steady presence of point A.J. Price. But they’re developing an identity again of having a star late in the game in Jerome Dyson, who missed all four attempts in the first half for two points, but flushed out a 16-point, 10-assist, 9-rebound (one shy of a triple-double) performance.
Kemba Walker is still over-penetrating at the point and had as many turnovers as points (three and three), but he still gets to the line (8-of-9). Stanley Robinson can flush on the break as well as anyone, but was turning the ball over too much (four).
The key for this squad is to ensure Dyson is the closer, that Gavin Edwards continues to score off the bench (15 points) and that Walker and Robinson make better decisions. It’s not enough to get to the Final Four again, but at 2-1 in the Big East (and within a second of being 3-0 had Lance Stephenson not been fouled in the final second at Cincinnati), the Huskies are still a Big East contender.
But we will know quite a bit more over the next three games, when the Huskies go to Georgetown on Saturday (fresh off the Hoyas losing at Marquette), host suddenly surging Pitt next Wednesday and then on Jan. 17 go to Michigan in what may be a must-get nonconference game for the erratic Wolverines.
“It’s a win in the league in which we didn’t play as well as we’re capable of, but we were able to at least take advantage, surprisingly enough, inside with some of our bigs early,’’ Calhoun said of Alex Oriakhi (12 points and 7 boards). "We made foul shots when we had to. We made stops, particularly down the stretch when we had to. And we rebounded when we had to. We have to put that into a whole package for a game and we’ve had a tough time this season putting that whole thing together.’’