Connecticut’s balanced scoring attack took a hit in its latest game when guard Jerome Dyson went down with a potentially season-ending knee injury.
Considering the way coach Jim Calhoun’s team is playing defensively, it may not need to spend too much time lamenting the loss.
With center Hasheem Thabeet constantly altering shots inside, the top-ranked Huskies will hope to keep up their defensive intensity Saturday at Seton Hall as they look for their 13th consecutive win, and ninth straight over the Pirates.
UConn (23-1, 11-1 Big East) has four players that average between 12.4 and 14.0 points, a luxury that’s given Calhoun a variety of reliable options on the offensive end.
That number was reduced by one on Wednesday, though, when Dyson, UConn’s second-leading scorer at 13.2 points per game, tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee in the Huskies’ game against No. 23 Syracuse.
He’s likely out for the season, but will be re-evaluated after having surgery sometime in the next few days.
“We’re obviously all very disappointed for Jerome …,” Calhoun said. “… It is another challenge we will have to face. We have very good players who I know will rise to the occasion and fill the void left by Jerome’s absence.”
One of those is Thabeet, who’s the main reason the Huskies have allowed an average of 60.0 points in their 12 conference games, easily the best in the Big East.
UConn is among the nation’s top 10 teams in field-goal percentage defense (37.6) as well, and a lot of those misses have been shots blocked or altered by Thabeet, who’s second in the country with 4.2 blocks per game.
He took control of the Syracuse game after Dyson’s injury, finishing with eight points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks in the Huskies’ 63-49 win.
“We’re not the best offensive team in the league but we’re a pretty good defensive team with Hasheem in the middle,” Calhoun said. “He affected 20 penetrations in the lane. Don’t get caught up in stats with him, even as good as they are, because he is one of the most amazing forces in basketball in America.”
Thabeet has become more of an offensive threat recently as well. Over his last four games, he’s averaging 13.5 points to go with 12.5 rebounds and 6.8 blocks.
With Dyson gone, though, freshman Kemba Walker will have to step up. Walker (8.8 ppg) will likely see the biggest increase in minutes due to Dyson’s injury.
“He’s our spark plug defensively,” Calhoun said. “He’s a pretty special player and I think he’s going to have a great career here.”
Seton Hall (14-9, 5-6) already got a taste of what Walker and the rest of the Huskies can do defensively. They held the Pirates to their lowest point total in any conference game this season on Jan. 18 in Hartford, winning 76-61 behind 23 points from A.J. Price.
Thabeet had 15 points, 17 boards and four blocks.
This time Seton Hall should have considerably more confidence, however. The Pirates have won five straight after an 0-6 Big East start. The last four wins, though, came against the conference’s three bottom-feeders, the latest a 72-49 victory at winless DePaul on Tuesday.
Eugene Harvey had a team-high 19 points, while leading scorer Jeremy Hazell (23.1 ppg) had a rare off night, scoring 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting.
Hazell hasn’t been off much recently, though—he’d averaged 28.0 points in his previous five games. He had 20 on 7-of-20 shooting in the loss at UConn last month.
Seton Hall has never beaten a top-ranked team in 10 attempts, the most recent a 99-57 home loss to UConn on Feb. 11, 2006.