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Jeff Eisenberg

Can UConn get back into NCAA tournament contention?

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Only two days after UConn's NCAA tournament hopes appeared to be buried for good following a fifth loss in six games, the Huskies pried a few nails out of their coffin and responded with unexpected signs of life.

Did UConn's shocking 84-75 upset of third-ranked Villanova propel the Huskies back on the right side of the bubble? Not even close. But did it revive hope that they can get there with a sizzling finish? Improbably, yes.

UConn is 15-11 overall, 5-8 in the Big East and 61st in the RPI. Even with their lofty preseason top 15 ranking and victories over Villanova and Texas, that's the resume of an NIT team − not an NCAA tournament contender.

For the Huskies to overcome brutal losses at Providence and Michigan and defeats at the hands of fellow Big East bubble teams Cincinnati, Louisville and Marquette, they likely cannot afford to stumble again in conference play. The good news is the road test at Villanova was by far the most difficult game on paper, but the bad news is home games against West Virginia and Louisville remain, as do road tests against Rutgers, South Florida and Notre Dame.

If UConn has any chance of emerging from that gauntlet unscathed or even making noise in the Big East tournament, the Huskies will need more performances like the one point guard Kemba Walker delivered on Monday night.

Walker shredded Villanova's defense for 29 points and 8 rebounds, shooting from the perimeter with the consistency and confidence that he has lacked at times during Big East play.

He entered the game with just 21 3-pointers in his past 25 games, but knocked down all three second-half attempts from behind the arc to help the Huskies extend a one-point halftime lead to nine and then hold off the Wildcats each time they made a late run.

Can Walker stay hot? UConn better hope so because Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson can't carry the scoring load themselves. The maddeningly inconsistent Huskies are 13-0 when they eclipse 70 points and 2-11 when they fall short.

And with the hole the Huskies are in, falling short again is not something they can afford.

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