On the heels of losses at Seton Hall and Rutgers, with the leadership capabilities of the team being questioned both within and outside of the locker room, Connecticut needed a win over West Virginia in a big way. But the Huskies didn't play with that sense of urgency out of the gates, as the Mountaineers grabbed eight offensive rebounds to UConn's zero on their way to a 33-28 lead. If the rebounding wasn't bad enough the turnovers were, as the Huskies turned the ball over nine times leading to 15 Mountaineer points.
Things weren't much better for Jim Calhoun's team at the start of the second half either, eventually trailing 46-36 with just under 12 minutes to go following a technical foul on Calhoun (Truck Bryant made one of two free throws) followed by a Deniz Kilicli jumper. But that technical provided the spark that UConn needed as they went on a 17-3 run to take control of the game. The end result: a 64-57 win with Jeremy Lamb scoring 25 points and Andre Drummond adding 20 to go along with 11 rebounds and three blocks.
After [the free throws] we got a stop, [and then] we got a score," said Lamb, who bounced back from a quiet eight point performance against Rutgers. "It got real loud and just pushed us through that time."
West Virginia attempted 18 more shots but couldn't take advantage, shooting just 32.3% from the field on the night. Drummond was just as important in defending Kevin Jones as the early favorite for Big East Player of the Year accounted for 22 points but grabbed just five rebounds, well below his conference-leading average of 11.5 caroms per game. Truck Bryant's offensive struggles didn't help the visitors either, as he scored eight points by made just two of thirteen field goal attempts.
The problem for West Virginia was their lack of patience in finding quality looks. While Jones and (when on) Bryant are both capable scorers, they have to rely on each other in order to be successful offensively. That got them in trouble during UConn's run, and it's something that will need to improve as the Mountaineers get deeper into Big East play.
As for UConn, while there's still plenty to be improved upon Monday's win was a step in the right direction. Alex Oriakhi played better while Shabazz Napier made up for missing all six shots by dishing out eight assists. UConn was punched in the mouth and thanks to their coach they responded, something that didn't happen in New Jersey.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Cincinnati picks up a much-needed victory for their resume at Georgetown.
Somewhat lost in the midst of Cincinnati's seven-game win streak, which was ended by St. John's on Saturday, was the fact that the opposition for Mick Cronin's team didn't do a whole lot for their resume. Cincinnati entered Monday night's game at Georgetown with a strength of schedule of 258 according to realtimerpi.com, and they still hadn't picked up a win that would qualify as a suitable counter for the home loss to Presbyterian. But Sean Kilpatrick scored a career-high 27 points and Dion Dixon added 22 as the Bearcats beat the 11th-ranked Hoyas 68-64 at the Verizon Center. With Cashmere Wright struggling, scoring just two points and missing all six shots from the field, the Bearcats needed Kilpatrick and Dixon to step up and they did.
Late in the game Cincinnati spread out the Hoyas, using their two leading scorers to take advantage of defensive mismatches to attack the rim. As for Georgetown, as strange as it may seem to say their relatively equal shot selection may have done them in. Hollis Thompson made all five of his shots in the first half, only to attempt one (which he missed) in the second. Four starters scored in double figures with a high of 14 points (Thompson and Jason Clark), but neither got the number of shots they could have commanded. Cincinnati played the hot hands, and the end result was a much-needed road win.
2. Oklahoma fails to bounce back from Saturday's loss, falling in Stillwater to the rival Cowboys.
Few expected Lon Kruger's team to beat Kansas at home on Saturday, so there wasn't much made of their defeat. But despite the fact that Monday's matchup with Oklahoma State was a rivalry game, it was one the Sooners had to have. But OU couldn't hit anything from the field until it was too late, making 32.4% of their shots in the 72-65 loss to the Cowboys. Travis Ford's team didn't shoot much better from the floor, making just 38.6% of their field goals, but they made up for it by getting to the foul line.
Oklahoma State finished 23-for-30 from the charity stripe while the Sooners made 13 of 20, and the ten-point edge gave OSU the cushion they needed to move to 2-1 in league play. Le'Bryan Nash led the way with 21 points and seven rebounds and Keiton Page added 18 for the victors, while OU's Steven Pledger made just three of thirteen shots from the field. Now 0-3 in league play, Oklahoma finds themselves in a position where they likely need to sweep their two-game home stand against Kansas State and Texas Tech.
3. Saint Mary's takes care of business, but the bigger issue is the defensive woes of their opponent.
Randy Bennett's Gaels did what they had to do in order to remain tied with Gonzaga atop the WCC standings. Matthew Dellavedova scored 27 points, Rob Jones 18 and Stephen Holt added 11 and ten rebounds, but it isn't ad if the visiting Dons did a great job of making things difficult on the Gaels. Saint Mary's shot 67.3% from the field and 11-for-19 from beyond the arc in the 87-72 win, dropping San Francisco to 0-4 in WCC play.
Defense has been the problem for Rex Walters' team, as they've allowed three of their four league opponents to shoot 52% or better from the field. The one exception was Loyola Marymount, who beat the Dons by a point on New Year's Eve. The talent and athletic ability are definitely there, with the likes of Angelo Caloiaro and Perris Blackwell leading four players averaging double figures, but if the desire to defend isn't there as well more results like this will occur. Once thought to be a team in the middle of the WCC who could give the three favorites fits, San Francisco finds themselves in desperate need of a league win.
1. There were two mid-year transfer decisions announced on Monday, one of which being former Pittsburgh forward Khem Birch deciding to transfer to UNLV. Birch, who was a McDonald's All-American out of high school, is a big pickup for Dave Rice's program. Could this help the Runnin' Rebels with marquee 2012 recruits Shabazz Muhammad and Anthony Bennett? That remains to be seen, but at the very least to get a player of Birch's caliber into the program is an important get for UNLV.
2. The other announcement came from former Texas A&M guard Jamal Branch, who has decided to transfer to St. John's. Branch's addition adds some depth to the Red Storm backcourt, and with Steve Lavin essentially using this season to recruit while recuperating from prostate cancer treatment he needed a commitment to spark things on the trail. Maybe this is it.
3. Morgan State played without suspended head coach Todd Bozeman and dropped a close one 57-55 at Savannah State. Rashad Hassan's dunk with 1:12 remaining proved to be the difference as the Tigers moved to 3-1 in MEAC play, and the Bears dropped to 1-1 and 3-10 overall. Norfolk State leads the conference with a 4-0 record.
4. Also in the MEAC North Carolina Central handed Bethune-Cookman their first league loss, winning 69-64 in Durham. Ray Willis scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds in leading the Eagles while Dominique Sutton added 11 and ten rebounds. Talent-wise, Levelle Moton's team can hang with any team in the conference.
5. While Lipscomb's win over Belmont on Friday opened things up in the Atlantic Sun, Monday's results showed just how wide open the league could be. Six teams sit one game behind the first-place Bruins in the loss column, and it's anyone's guess who the best option to challenge Belmont may end up being. One option: Mercer, who boasts a 4-2 league record (12-7 overall) after winning 73-66 at USC Upstate. Justin Cecil, who finished with a game-high 26 points, sparked a 14-1 second half run that helped the Bears take control of the action.
6. It's pretty much a lock at this point in the season that the automatic qualifier out of the SWAC will be playing in one of the four first-round games, but that doesn't mean that the race will lack intrigue. Texas Southern and Mississippi Valley State lead the league with matching 3-0 marks as the Delta Devils won 81-69 at Alabama A&M. Falando Holmes led five MVSU players in double figures with 18 points, and the Delta Devils scored 45 second half points.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati)
Career-high 27 points (10-16 FG) and four steals in the Bearcats' 68-64 win at #11 Georgetown.
2. G Matthew Dellavedova (Saint Mary's)
27 points (9-13 FG), six rebounds and four assists in the Gaels' 87-72 win over San Francisco.
3. C Andre Drummond (Connecticut)
20 points (9-11 FG), 11 rebounds and three blocks in the Huskies' 64-57 win over West Virginia.