Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun knows what he is going to see from every opponent. He’d like to be able to say the same about his team.
The second-ranked Huskies try to bounce back from their first loss on Saturday when they host a Rutgers squad completing a brutal run against the nation’s top three teams.
Immensely talented but sometimes inconsistent, Connecticut (11-1, 0-1 Big East) appeared to have emerged as a clear-cut No. 2 to North Carolina in the nation as well as a favorite in the Big East during its run up to conference play, especially after an 88-83 overtime win over then-No. 8 Gonzaga in Seattle on Dec. 20.
The Huskies, though, took a huge step back after a 74-63 defeat to No. 11 Georgetown on Monday, failing to make it competitive after trailing 18-3 early.
Following the effort - or lack of one according to Calhoun - the coach didn’t hold back in a scathing critique.
“We looked like we had never seen a matchup zone before,” he said. “We have played against nothing but matchup zones. I’m in a state of shock, I really am. It was just a very, very poor performance for us - opening Big East game, sold-out crowd, electricity in the gym and for us to perform like that. … I apologize. I just don’t know how we could play that poorly.”
UConn’s backcourt of A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson and Craig Austrie combined for 24 points, but Dyson was 1-for-10 from the field and the trio created little ball movement as the Huskies finished with only six assists and 17 turnovers.
“With eight minutes to go we were down, like 12, and I didn’t like looking at my team,” Calhoun said. “It’s the first time all year I can tell you that. We had no help from our big guys on hedges, and our guards got beat like a drum on the outside.”
Connecticut has only started Big East play 0-2 under Calhoun once, in the 1989-90 season. With 785 victories, the coach is one shy of tying Lefty Driesell for seventh on the all-time Division I list.
The Scarlet Knights (9-5, 0-1) may not emerge with a victory in what is believed to be an unprecedented stretch of games against the nation’s elite, but they have shown signs of progress. Rutgers, which lost at top-ranked North Carolina 97-75 on Sunday, pushed No. 3 Pittsburgh in its Big East opener on Wednesday before falling 78-72 at home.
Freshman guard Mike Rosario, who scored 25 points against the Tar Heels, had 22 Wednesday and helped the Scarlet Knights take a five-point lead midway through the second half. But Pitt’s superior depth, along with switching to a matchup zone, blunted Rutgers’ bid to upset a top 10 team for the first time since 2003.
“I thought they went zone and it slowed us down a little in the second half,” Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. “We got the ball inside near the rim three times and we came away empty. Those empty possessions hurt you against the number three team in the country.”
Rosario has averaged 24.0 points on 52.1 percent shooting, including 44.0 percent (11-for-25) from 3-point range, over his last three games to raise his average to a team-high 17.8 points. Fellow freshman Gregory Echenique has struggled against the higher-caliber competition, totaling just 10 points and 13 rebounds in the two defeats - well off the forward’s season averages of 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds.
UConn has won 15 of the 16 games between the teams since Rutgers joined the Big East in 1995 - including the last seven - and leads the all-time series 31-13.