Huskies stake claim to top spot with demolition of Friars

STORRS, Conn. -- Hasheem Thabeet said he was surprised Providence kept trying to challenge him inside.

Thabeet tied a school record by blocking 10 shots and recorded his first career triple-double as No. 2 Connecticut staked its claim to the No. 1 spot in the nation with a 94-61 blowout of the Friars on Saturday.

The 7-foot-3 junior had 15 points and 11 rebounds, seven on the offensive glass.

"They keep coming, and I tell them, 'No you're not going to get an easy shot today," Thabeet said. "They kept coming, and I kept blocking and that was why I was effective today."

A.J. Price led UConn (20-1, 9-1 Big East) with 19 points, while Stanley Robinson added 18 and Jeff Adrien 14. It was the Huskies' ninth straight win since losing to Georgetown in the conference opener on Dec. 29.

With No. 1 Duke losing earlier in the week to Wake Forest (No. 4 ESPN/USA Today, No. 6 AP) and No. 3 Pittsburgh falling to Villanova, UConn is expected to take the top spot in Monday's poll.

"We're not No. 1 and so I don't plan on reading the papers or certainly reading the polls until 9 p.m. on Monday night, so I don't know what you're talking about," UConn coach Jim Calhoun joked. "It's just a number that goes by quickly. But if there are 343 teams playing in the country and at some point in the season, especially 21 games into the season ... it's nice. No more. No less."

Randall Hanke had 16 points to lead Providence (14-7, 6-3), which was coming off a win over No. 15 Syracuse and was off to its best start in the Big East since opening 7-2 in 2000-01.

The Friars had been shooting almost 39 percent from 3-point range over the past nine games and were averaging almost 81 points a game.

The Friars were just 5-of-15 from behind the arc on Saturday.

"We're not a team that can rely on one part of our game," first-year coach Keno Davis said. "If a team's going to come out and take away 3-point shots, we've got to be able to drive and get to the free throw line."

It was the third time Thabeet had 10 blocks in a game. Emeka Okafor and Donyell Marshall are the other players to do that for Connecticut.

The Huskies broke open a close game by scoring the first 11 points of the second half, part of a 15-0 run, highlighted by a block by Thabeet and a 3-pointer by Robinson at the other end.

Providence was held without a point for almost 4 minutes before Marshon Brooks hit a 3-pointer to make it 49-37.

The Huskies went on a 20-0 run later in the half that made it 84-51, and the fans began chanting "Number One."

"We're so happy," Thabeet said. "We worked so hard, and have won a lot of games in row. We're just trying to stay together as much as possible. We're just happy right now."

Weyinmi Efejuku, who came in averaging over 13 points a game, finished with seven for the Friars and fouled out with 7:40 left.

There were 10 lead changes and three ties in the first half. UConn went inside early, with Thabeet and Adrien scoring eight of its first 14 points.

They led 32-25 with just over 6 minutes left in the half, but Jonathan Kale and Hanke led the Friars on a 9-2 run to tie the game.

UConn had 10 blocked shots in the first half, five by Thabeet, and led 38-34. The triple-double was the seventh in school history.

The Friars came in having won thee straight over Connecticut and five of the past seven games between the schools, including the past four on the road.

The win was the Huskies' first at home over Providence since a 67-56 win on Feb. 5, 2002, their longest home losing streak against a conference opponent since they snapped a seven-game streak against St. John's in 1988.

The win sets up a showdown between UConn and No. 7 Louisville on Monday in Freedom Hall. The Cardinals beat West Virginia 69-63 to remain unbeaten in the Big East.

"You don't want to be No. 1 for a day," Calhoun said.

Connecticut's women have been ranked No. 1 all season, and this would be the first time both teams have held the top spot since they both won national titles in 2004.