Considering Connecticut is one of the nation’s top shooting teams, it shouldn’t be surprising that coach Jim Calhoun’s team scores nearly 80 points per game.
It also wouldn’t be a shock if the Huskies exceed their average against Seton Hall.
The Pirates have been a defensive sieve since opening Big East play, a weakness fourth-ranked UConn will look to exploit Sunday afternoon in Hartford as it tries to extend its winning streak over Seton Hall to eight games.
Connecticut (15-1, 4-1 Big East) is shooting 49.7 percent from the field to rank among the nation’s top 10 teams. The Huskies have connected on 49.3 percent of their shots—including 41.9 percent from 3-point range—in winning their last four games since a 74-63 loss to Georgetown on Dec. 29.
The past three have come on the road, including a 67-55 victory at St. John’s on Thursday. The Red Storm trailed by only one at the half, but star freshman Kemba Walker finished with 21 points and helped UConn blow the game open in the final 20 minutes.
“He may be as good at change of pace at the top as any kid I’ve ever coached,” Calhoun said. “He takes a great joy in playing the game of basketball and from someone who cares about the sport that’s great to see.”
Walker wasn’t without help from inside. Senior forward Jeff Adrien had 17 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, his second consecutive double-double.
The Huskies average 78.9 points, but what’s made them successful their last four games has been their defense. UConn has allowed 57.8 ppg in that stretch, holding its opponents to 37.2 percent from the field.
With more than half of his team’s remaining 14 games against ranked opponents, Calhoun knows that defensive intensity will need to continue.
“We’re 15-1 with nine ranked teams left to play. We’ve got some work ahead of us,” Calhoun said. “You can only take what you’ve got.”
While the Huskies have been clamping down defensively in Big East play, Seton Hall (9-7, 0-4) has been doing anything but. The Pirates have allowed 92.3 ppg since Dec. 30, a defensive average no other team in the country has even come within five points of in that stretch.
Their most recent struggles came in a venue where it’s nearly impossible to win. Seton Hall held a one-point halftime lead at then-No. 13 Notre Dame on Jan. 10, but gave up 47 in the second half on its way to an 88-79 loss.
It was the 45th straight home win for the Irish. With that in mind, Pirates coach Bobby Gonzalez was pleased with his team’s effort.
“You almost have to play perfect basketball to beat them,” Gonzalez said. “I’m really proud of our kids. I thought we played exceptional today.”
Seton Hall will almost certainly need a better performance from its leading scorer, Jeremy Hazell, if it’s to have a chance against UConn. The sophomore guard is second in the Big East with 22.4 ppg, but he tied a season low against the Irish with 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting.
Hazell scored 28 against the Huskies in a 98-86 home loss on Jan. 3, 2008. Jerome Dyson led UConn with 27 points.
UConn has won seven straight and 14 of 15 against the Pirates.