Bucking The Trend

Subpar efforts on defense have held Connecticut back in recent Big East tournaments. Judging by their effort in their last regular-season game, the Huskies appear ready to change that trend.

The 15th-ranked Huskies, featuring the Big East defensive player of the year and coming off a dominant performance, look to snap a three-game losing streak in league tournament play when they face West Virginia in a quarterfinal matchup Thursday.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Connecticut –2 point spread favorites (View College Basketball odds) for today’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 75% of bets for this game have been placed on Connecticut -2 (View College Basketball bet percentages).

Connecticut (24-7) has won six Big East tournament titles, but hasn't won a game in this competition since a 66-62 victory over Georgetown in a semifinal matchup March 10, 2005.

Poor defense has been the Huskies' downfall in the tournament each of the past two seasons, as they lost to Syracuse each year, 86-84 in overtime on March 9, 2006 and 78-65 on March 7, 2007.

Fourth-seeded UConn, though, rebounded from one of its worst defensive efforts and closed the regular season with one of its best, beating Cincinnati 96-51 on Sunday.

That victory came three days after Connecticut lost 85-76 at Providence.

"We tried to make it a statement game that we can play defense," said Huskies coach Jim Calhoun, whose team had a first-round bye in the conference tourney. "That was my whole key."

UConn, allowing 68.3 points per game, is led by Big East defensive player of the year Hasheem Thabeet. The 7-foot-3 center blocked a Big East-record 94 shots, becoming the fifth Huskies player to earn the league's top defensive honor in the last six seasons.

Thabeet was held to two points and two rebounds in a 79-71 win over West Virginia (23-9) on March 1, but blocked three shots.

A.J. Price and Jeff Adrien led Connecticut in that game with 24 and 17 points, respectively. Both players were first-team All-Big East selections. Adrien is averaging 14.8 points and 9.1 rebounds, while Price is at 14.7 points and 6.0 assists per game.

UConn hopes Thabeet, Price and Adrien give it a chance to make its deepest Big East tournament run since winning the title in 2004.

Thabeet should have a good chance to improve upon his last performance against West Virginia. The Mountaineers' tallest player is 7-foot starting center Jamie Smalligan, but he averaged just 12.0 minutes per game in the regular season and blocked one shot in 31 games.

Fifth-seeded West Virginia's best big man and top player is Joe Alexander, who had 32 points and 10 rebounds in the March 1 loss to UConn. The 6-8 forward has been on a tear this month, averaging 31.0 points in his last three regular-season games.

On Wednesday, Alexander scored 22 points to lead West Virginia to a 58-53 win over Providence in the opening round of the Big East tournament. The Mountaineers won despite shooting 3-for-15 from 3-point range and getting held 18 points below their season average.

The poor offensive output, though, may not bode well for West Virginia against a Connecticut team that has stepped it up defensively in recent days.

"They're good and they're playing at real high level right now," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said of the Huskies.

This will be the first Big East tournament game between the Mountaineers and Huskies. UConn leads the series 12-3.

The winner will face top-seeded Georgetown or No. 8 seed Villanova in the semifinals Friday night.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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