Last season’s contest between Connecticut and Georgia Tech didn’t come close to matching the level of play when the teams met in the 2004 national title game. The Huskies, however, seem poised to become a championship contender again.
After earning a victory in their first game as a ranked team in more than a year, the 19th-ranked Huskies look to avenge one of their worst losses of a subpar 2006-07 season when they host the Yellow Jackets in a non-conference matchup Saturday.
A 65-52 loss to Georgia Tech on Feb. 11 exemplified how badly Connecticut - which had perennially been one of the country’s top programs - struggled at times last season. The Huskies shot 30.9 percent (17-for-55) from the field in what was one of their worst offensive performances of 2006-07, when they went 17-14.
That game was a rematch of the 2004 championship game, which UConn won 82-73. While the Yellow Jackets (11-10) continue to regress after barely making the NCAA tournament last season, the Huskies (17-5) are regaining national attention.
Connecticut entered the AP Top 25 this week on the strength of three wins over ranked teams in a five-game span. The Huskies won 63-61 at Syracuse on Wednesday night in their first game as a ranked team since holding the 24th spot in the poll the week of Jan. 8, 2007.
“UConn is back! UConn is back on the map!” Jeff Adrien said after scoring 19 points and grabbing 12 rebounds to lead the Huskies on Wednesday.
It was Connecticut’s fourth straight win since coach Jim Calhoun suspended guards Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins after they were caught with alcohol on campus, and its sixth consecutive victory overall. Wiggins, a sophomore reserve, returned in a win over then-No. 18 Pittsburgh last Saturday. Dyson, the Huskies’ second-leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, remains suspended indefinitely.
“We couldn’t be happier the way this team is playing during this six-game stretch,” Calhoun said.
UConn used its defensive prowess to win its latest game, blocking eight shots and holding the Orange to 37.3 percent from the field. The Huskies have led the nation in blocked shots the past six years and lead again this season with 8.7 per contest. At 7-foot-3, Hasheem Thabeet is the Huskies’ most intimidating post presence, blocking 4.0 shots a game.
Thabeet had seven blocks and seven boards in last season’s matchup with Georgia Tech, but did not attempt a shot from the field.
The Yellow Jackets, meanwhile, have only one regular contributor taller than 6-8. Alade Aminu, 6-10, has been relegated to a reserve role after starting at center in Georgia Tech’s first seven games.
The Yellow Jackets have been starting three guards since benching Aminu. Perimeter play is clearly their strength, with guards Anthony Morrow (14.5 points per game) and Lewis Clinch (11.2) leading the team in scoring.
Morrow broke out of a recent shooting slump Wednesday night, scoring 21 of his 23 points in the second half as Georgia Tech ended Wake Forest’s 16-game home winning streak with an 89-83 comeback victory.
Morrow made all eight of his attempts from the free-throw line and went 6-for-9 from the field. He shot 8-for-23 from the floor in his previous three games.
“Like a lot of seniors when they get to this point in their career, they realize that time’s running out and they’ve got to spend it all out there,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said of Morrow. “He’s playing better, and he stepped up and made plays.”
The Yellow Jackets have been defeated in all four of their games against ranked teams this season, but lost those contests by an average margin of 5.0 points.
Connecticut leads the all-time series with Georgia Tech 2-1.