Most of the talk surrounding Connecticut's game against top-ranked Texas focused on the fact that it was a good thing the Huskies ended their three-game losing streak on Wednesday night against St. John's. Few people expected the team, currently being run by George Blaney due to Jim Calhoun's leave of absence, to beat the Longhorns despite playing on campus in front of a frenzied crowd. And about 30 seconds into the second half, when one basket was followed by yet another turnover and Texas hoop to make it 44-34, it looked like the game was definitely headed in that direction. But from that timeout taken by Coach Blaney on the Huskies controlled the game, even executing in the half-court and on inbounds plays at a level seldom seen in recent games to win going away 88-74.
Jerome Dyson was the most important constant for UConn, scoring a career-high 32 points while Stanley Robinson (17 points, 12 rebounds) and Kemba Walker (19 points, 10 assists) helped lead the Huskies to their best win of the season and first over a ranked team. It was also the program's second all-time over a top-ranked team with the first coming against Duke for their first national title in 1999. The key for Connecticut? They simply settled down. UConn turned the ball over sixteen times in the first half, resulting in 25 points for the Longhorns and a 42-34 UT lead at the half. But after that turnover to start off the second half UConn turned the ball over just three more times the rest of the game. From there it was Texas who struggled to score in the half-court while Walker and company rose to the occasion.
In addition the points scored by the three aforementioned players there were other key contributors to the Husky cause. Ater Majok had his best defensive game in a UConn uniform, blocking four shots and contesting many others in 31 minutes of play. Gavin Edwards added eleven points off the bench and repeatedly outran the Longhorn bigs down the floor, which was a factor in Dexter Pittman's subpar showing (five points, two rebounds, three turnovers and five fouls in 15 minutes). Even Donnell Beverly provided some important minutes off the bench, accounting for three assists and two steals in his seven minutes of action.
Connecticut finished the game with a 36-34 rebounding edge and while Damion James led the Longhorns with 23 points he had just one made field goal in the first fifteen minutes of the second half. The 13-0 run that flipped the game from a 52-45 Texas lead to 58-52 in favor of the Huskies changed the tide of the game for good, with UT unable to get anything done offensively while Kemba Walker's improved play (17 points, two turnovers) gave Connecticut the spark they needed to close out a week that began with uncertainty in splendid fashion. And while their work is by no means done in regards to the season, Saturday could be a day they look back on as a starting point should they accomplish something special.
Three Key Happenings
1. Duke picks up their first true road victory of the season. Few people picked the Blue Devils to beat Clemson on the road, bringing up their lack of a true road victory this season and last year's beating they took at Littlejohn Coliseum. But what people didn't take into account was Clemson's inability to make an outside shot, and that combined with Duke doing a solid job of handling the Tiger pressure resulted in a 60-47 win for the road team. The "big three" did their job with Nolan Smith leading the way with 22 points and Lance Thomas added 13 points and seven rebounds in the win. Duke kept their turnovers down as well (finishing with twelve), and when a team struggles offensively like the Tigers did the lack of points off turnovers can prove lethal.
Trevor Booker made ten of fourteen shots from the field to finish with 22 points, but the other Tigers combined to shoot a brutal 8-for-34 (23.5%) from the field as the team finished at 37.5%. While the Blue Devils picked up a quality road win and thrust themselves right back into an ACC race with just two teams sitting at one league loss (Maryland and Virginia), Clemson needs to find scoring outside of Booker and Demontez Stitt and a capable outside shooter or two.
2. Oklahoma State bolsters their resume with a win at Kansas State. After their win over top-ranked Texas on Monday a lot of pundits skipped straight ahead to Kansas State's game against Kansas next Saturday. Only problem: Frank Martin's team had games to play before that date, including a dangerous Oklahoma State team that left Manhattan with the 73-69 victory. James Anderson scored 30 points in leading the Cowboys to their first road win over a Top 10 opponent since 1958, when a team that included Eddie Sutton as a player beat #2 Kansas in Lawrence. The Wildcats made just 35.6% of their shots in falling to Oklahoma State for the twelfth time in their last fourteen meetings and they didn't help themselves out at the foul line (19-for-33) either.
Denis Clemente led K-State with 19 points but despite fifteen offensive rebounds the Wildcats were a minus-5 in rebounding margin. By comparison they were a plus-9 on Monday night against a Texas squad with more size and more depth. Uneasy is the head that wears the crown and while Kansas State was by no means the frontrunner in the Big 12 Monday's win did place a bull's eye on their collective chests. And they didn't handle it as well as they could have, but some of that was due to the play of the Cowboys.
3. Georgia picks up the first defining win of the Mark Fox era. Yes the Bulldogs had a win over in-state rival Georgia Tech but the Yellow Jackets weren't a Top 10 team and that game was close. Saturday's 78-63 beating of #8 Tennessee got out of hand early thanks to the Bulldogs' 12-0 run to take a 14-4 lead (Georgia shot 65% from the field in the first half), and with Scotty Hopson being the lone Volunteer to make a three pointer it was all downhill from there. Trey Thompkins led Georgia with 21 points while Travis Leslie added 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, continuing his development as a solid scoring option alongside Thompkins.
Georgia shot 56.3% from the field, also making seven of their twelve shots from behind the arc, while Tennessee made just 42.3% of their shots (3-for-16 3PT). And when going up against a zone, a defense that Mark Fox ran for most of Saturday's win, the inability to make perimeter shots will send you home with a loss if you can't get the ball inside. Wayne Chism scored just six points on the afternoon, and the Vols were a minus-11 in rebounding margin while finishing with just nine assists. The win was just Georgia's first SEC win of the year but it's something that Coach Fox and his staff can build on as they develop the program.
Top Three Games
1. Northwestern State 99, Nicholls State 98 (2OT) The Demons survived an outstanding day from the Colonels' Anatoly Bose, who scored 46 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in defeat. Northwestern State won the game on a Devon Baker free throw with one second left in the second overtime and Damon Jones led the winners with 25 points.
2. USF 109, Providence 105 (OT) The Bulls came back from eleven down with 1:31 to go, tying the game on Toarlyn Fitzpatrick's second three pointer of the season to send the game into overtime. From there Dominique Jones continued his mastery of the Friars in setting a school record of 46 points. Jones grabbed ten rebounds and fell just two assists short of a triple-double. The win is USF's third road victory in their four years as a Big East member.
3. West Virginia 71, Ohio State 65 The Mountaineers came back from a twelve-point halftime deficit to beat the Buckeyes in Morgantown. Da'Sean Butler scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half while William Buford led OSU with 22 points and Evan Turner added a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Dominique Jones (USF) 46 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in the Bulls' 109-105 overtime win at Providence.
2. G/F Anatoly Bose (Nicholls State) 46 points and 14 rebounds for the swingman in the Colonels' 99-98 double overtime loss to Northwestern State.
3. G Jimmer Fredette (BYU) Fredette made eleven of nineteen from the field, scoring 33 points while also accounting for five assists and three rebounds in the Cougars 71-69 win at San Diego State.