Connecticut went into their game against West Virginia back in the NCAA Tournament conversation following wins over Villanova and Temple. But consistency has been a problem for the Huskies all season long, so it can be understood if some expected them to fall to West Virginia at the XL Center. A mediocre rebounding team for most of the season, the Huskies received a far better performance on the glass on Monday night, out-rebounding the Big East's best 37-33 in a 73-62 win. WVU fans will likely cite the foul shot disparity (42-23) as a major factor (Bob Huggins didn't stick around for the end, receiving a pair of technical fouls), but the fact that the Mountaineers made just twelve (52.2%) put them behind the 8-ball to begin with.
Kemba Walker led the Huskies with 21 points and four assists, scoring fourteen points from the foul line, while Stanley Robinson (15 points, 13 rebounds) and Jerome Dyson (17 points) chipped in. Dyson's biggest contribution may have come on the defensive end, where he was assigned Da'Sean Butler and held him to nine points on 2-for-10 shooting from the field. Devin Ebanks led the Mountaineers with 17 points and nine rebounds while Kevin Jones added 12 but the team's struggles from both the foul line and behind the arc (4-for-18) proved to be too much for the visitors. The win moves the Huskies further into the conversation for an at-large bid and moves their win streak to three.
"We've got a couple of pretty good, significant wins right now, and none of it means anything except that we have Louisville next Sunday," said head coach Jim Calhoun. "I have no misgivings about what we didn't do. All I care about is what we're doing right now. There's no look-back in life. There are no mulligans. I just happy with what we're doing now, and we still have a lot more work to do (quote courtesy of UConn Athletics)."
Three Key Happenings
1. Kansas takes care of Oklahoma, clinches share of the Big 12 title. No Willie Warren for Oklahoma meant little drama for the Jayhawks as they wrapped up at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title with an 81-68 win. Xavier Henry made all seven of his shots in the first half and finished with 23 points and five rebounds while Sherron Collins led three other starters in double figures with seventeen. Tommy Mason-Griffin led the Sooners with 17 while Andrew Fitzgerald, whose made field goal ended a streak of eleven straight misses to start the game, scored sixteen. The title is the sixth straight for Kansas and they can clinch it with either a Kansas State loss tomorrow night or a win in their next contest (at Oklahoma State on Saturday).
"To win six conference championships in a row and be undefeated is quite an accomplishment," said head coach Bill Self. "We are really proud of our guys. For Sherron to become the winningest player ever and for Cole to be named basically the student-athlete of the year, it was a pretty good day for our basketball program (quote courtesy of Kansas Athletics)." The Jayhawks have had the answers for much of the season and are one of the favorites to cut down the nets in Indianapolis. The only thing missing has been a "killer instinct", something they really haven't needed thus far. But with veterans like Collins and Cole Aldrich it won't be a trait they lack come March.
2. Texas receives the results on Dogus Balbay's MRI: torn ACL. Balbay's scoring deficiencies may be brought up often in discussing the struggles of the Longhorns, but if that were what's been holding Rick Barnes' team back then why hadn't either J'Covan Brown or Jai Lucas passed him in the rotation? Now with the native of Turkey done for the year with a torn ACL it's time for either one (or both) of those two to step up lest a once-promising season fall by the wayside. Dogus was the Longhorns' best perimeter defender and while the other two are more talented offensive players Brown's been inconsistent and Lucas a non-factor.
If there's to be any kind of turnaround Brown's the likely choice to run the point for Texas. Could the loss of Balbay mean more definitive roles or simply more confusion for a group that's struggled to find an identity? If it's the former then Texas can still be a team to keep an eye on next month. But if not they'll most likely flame out well before anyone expected them to back in November.
3. Morgan State clinches their third consecutive MEAC title. The Bears closed the game by outscoring the Hawks 9-5 in the final 1:27 to win 65-61, wrapping up at least a share of their third consecutive MEAC title in the process. Kevin Thompson led the way with 21 points and 10 rebounds as the Hawks missed five of their final six free throws, allowing Morgan State to escape despite leading scorer Reggie Holmes shooting 1-for-10 from the field. Rarely do teams win games on the road when they go 0-for-15 from behind the arc but when UMES shoots 9-for-21 from the foul line you get that chance.
Outside of a three-point loss to South Carolina St and their BracketBusters defeat at Murray State, Todd Bozeman's team has played very good basketball in 2010. Could they scare someone in the NCAA Tournament provided they win the MEAC Tournament? Yes; Holmes isn't going to shoot 1-for-10 from the field very often. As for the history of the MEAC Tournament, only three times in the last decade did a team that didn't have one of the top two seeds win the automatic bid.
Top Three Games
1. Prairie View A&M 69, Mississippi Valley St. 68 Christopher Jones' layup with two seconds left gave the Panthers the one-point road win in Itta Bena. Jones scored eleven while Dorian McDaniel led the way with 22 points, and Shannon Behling led MVSU with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
2. Connecticut 73, West Virginia 62 See above.
3. Seattle 90, San Jose St 88 Adrian Oliver scored 35 points and four Spartans reached double figures but it wasn't enough to make up for a bench that produced zero points. Charles Garcia led the Redhawks with 20 as Seattle U picked up their fifth win in their last six games.
Three Notable Perfomances
1. G Adrian Oliver (San Jose St) 35 points (9-14 FG, 17-18 FT) in the Spartans' 90-88 loss to Seattle.
2. G/F Dana Smith (Longwood) Played forty minutes, scoring 25 points and grabbing ten rebounds in the Lancers' 96-86 loss at James Madison. G Pierre Curtis (James Madison) added his own 25 & 10 (his were assists) in the same game.
3. G Michael Deloach (Norfolk St) 31 points, five steals and four assists in the Spartans' 82-62 win over South Carolina St.