Connecticut was able to get away with a subpar defensive effort in its first-round victory at the Paradise Jam. The second-ranked Huskies likely could not withstand a second such lapse Sunday when they play No. 17 Miami in the semifinals in the Virgin Islands.
The Huskies (3-0) held both Western Carolina and Hartford below 35 percent shooting from the field in lopsided victories to start the season. But Connecticut had few answers for La Salle on Friday before pulling away for an 89-81 win as the Explorers shot 50 percent - the best by any Huskies opponent since George Mason also made half its shots in beating them to reach the 2006 Final Four.
“It was just too easy for them,” said UConn coach Jim Calhoun, who was forced to use a zone defense to slow the Explorers.
Offensively, Connecticut had few problems, shooting 54.7 percent. Freshman Kemba Walker came off the bench to score 23 points, while Jeff Adrien added 22 and 14 rebounds. But Calhoun singled out praise for point guard A.J. Price, who played despite the pain of an abscessed tooth to contribute 12 points, four assists and three steals.
“He played in an awful lot of pain. But I liked the way he played, liked the way he pushed the game,” Calhoun said of Price, who sat out the win over Hartford on Monday due to an ankle injury.
The senior is expected to play after getting the tooth drained Saturday.
Miami (2-0) has some good offensive options of its own in Jack McClinton and Dwayne Collins, and perhaps a developing one in senior guard Lance Hurdle, who came off the bench to score 13 points in a 70-60 win over Southern Mississippi on Friday.
“It’s great to be back with my teammates. …” said Hurdle, who missed Miami’s opener with a high ankle sprain. “The adrenaline was flowing. I felt like a kid on Christmas.”
McClinton, who scored 17.7 points per game in helping Miami to the second round of the NCAA tournament last season, also had 13 points, but coach Frank Haith thought his star guard was “pressing” too much. McClinton went 4-for-9 from the field, including 2-of-6 from 3-point range, but also committed five of Miami’s 13 turnovers.
Collins finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, sinking eight of 10 free throws as the Hurricanes amassed a 22-12 edge at the foul line.
Connecticut leads the all-time series 15-8, and won 76-63 in the last meeting on Feb. 18, 2004, when Miami was still a member of the Big East. The Hurricanes went 6-7 against the Huskies while the schools were conference rivals from 1997-2004.
The winner of this game will play the winner of the No. 25 Wisconsin-San Diego game in the championship on Monday, while the losers will play for third place.