UConn Right Back in the Hunt

        UConn has played Top-10 teams exceptionally well all season, posting a 3-3 overall record. Their three losses come at the hands of Duke, Kentucky and Syracuse (all away from home) by a combined 17 points. On the other hand, the Huskies have knocked off former-#1 Texas, Villanova and West Virginia. It's been the other teams that have given UConn its season-long trouble. But, their most recent win over Big East foe, and the nation's #7 team, West Virginia has pushed the Connecticut Huskies into the NCAA's field of 65.

        Coach Calhoun left the team on medical leave after a three-game losing stretch and sported a losing record (3-4) in his absence. Even when Calhoun returned to the bench, the team's fall from the top continued. He describes the February 13th home loss to Cincinnati "embarrassing" and "…one of the worst performances I've had here at UConn in 24 years…" UConn shot a dreadful 34% from the field and was out-rebounded by 14 by a much smaller Bearcat team. At 14-11 and losers of five out of their last six, the Huskies' postseason hopes were seemingly over.

        Connecticut's next game was not only a "must win" against #3 Villanova, but on the road as well, where the Huskies had yet to win all season. Kemba Walker, who has struggled all season long shooting the ball, also had trouble not turning the ball over. Against one of the best backcourts in the nation, Walker responded with a career game - marking career highs in points (29), three-pointers made (3), free throw makes (14) and only turned the ball over twice in 39 minutes of play.

        The Huskies, led by Walker and senior Stanley Robinson, picked up their second road-win of the season by thrashing Rutgers, setting up another "must win" game against West Virginia last night. UConn was on the outside of the NCAA Tournament bubble, looking in, but losses to fellow-bubble teams, Marquette, Louisville and Cincinnati, made the Huskies' quest to March Madness unlikely without a win against the Mountaineers. Down 5-0 early in the game, Coach Calhoun called a timeout and criticized the referees instead of talking with his team. The result was a technical foul, but it sparked a 28-8 run by Calhoun's squad. By getting to the foul line 42 times (and connecting on 30 of the attempts), UConn was able to control the tempo of the game, running in transition at time and forcing West Virginia to give up an easy layup or foul for two free throws. Connecticut's stingy defense had WVU settling for too many perimeter shots, where the Mountaineers were unable to connect (4-for-18 from outside the arc). This, in turn, led to a Husky rebound and outlet and a transition break going the other way.

        Connecticut's three-straight wins, including wins over two Top-10 teams has the Huskies back into the NCAA Tournament, maybe for good. They have played the nation's second most difficult schedule to date and have several winnable games down the stretch before the Big East Tournament. With their new-found confidence and hot play, the Connecticut Huskies will be a dangerous team to play down the stretch.

By Corey Ruff - President - 2-23-10