Connecticut backed up its first No. 1 ranking in three years with a dominating performance against a formidable opponent.
On Saturday, the Huskies hope to avoid a letdown as they look for an 11th straight victory when they step out of conference to host Michigan.
Playing as the No. 1 team in the AP poll for the first time since 2005-06, Connecticut (21-1) proved its worth by handing No. 5 Louisville its first Big East loss in a 68-51 victory Monday at Freedom Hall.
“We definitely made a statement that we’re No. 1,” said senior forward Jeff Adrien, who had 18 points and seven rebounds for the Huskies.
Barring an upset in its first meeting with Michigan (15-8) since 1939, UConn will hold on to the ranking for a second straight week, something Pittsburgh, Wake Forest and Duke were unable to do in the previous three weeks.
The Huskies, 11-0 versus non-conference opponents, have won 14 consecutive home games against opponents outside of the Big East since a 77-73 loss to Indiana on Jan. 20, 2007.
Though Michigan has lost five of its last seven games overall, the Wolverines shouldn’t be intimidated by this matchup. They beat then-No. 4 UCLA 55-52 on Nov. 20 at Madison Square Garden and knocked off then-No. 4 Duke 81-73 on Dec. 6 in Ann Arbor.
“I am excited to play the number one team,” Michigan guard Manny Harris said. “I think our team plays at our best when we play higher-ranked teams, even though we should play the same every game.”
The Wolverines, however, have lost their last six contests when facing the nation’s top-ranked team since beating the Blue Devils 81-73 at home on Dec. 13, 1997.
Even if the Huskies don’t play their best, they will still be tough to beat.
Despite going 0-for-8 from 3-point range Monday, UConn shot 47.1 percent from the field overall and forced 18 turnovers while holding an opponent to fewer than 55 points for the second time in three games.
“They’re very truly the No. 1 team in the country,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.
While 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet had 14 points with 11 rebounds and Jerome Dyson added 14 points, Adrien continues to pace the Huskies, averaging a team-leading 14.3 points and doing the little things to motivate his teammates.
“Adrien has really turned into a leader and provides a lot of energy for us,” said Thabeet, averaging 13.0 points, 10.1 rebounds and four blocks per game. “When we needed a loose ball, he goes and gets it.”
Michigan boasts one of the country’s top guards in Harris. Second in the Big Ten with a 17.7 scoring average, the sophomore had 28 points with seven assists and six rebounds Thursday as the Wolverines avoided a third straight loss with a 71-51 victory at home over Penn State.
Though Michigan won these teams’ only previous meeting - 62-45 in 1939 - UConn coach Jim Calhoun is 4-1 all-time versus Michigan’s John Beilein, who faced the Huskies while coaching Richmond and West Virginia.
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