Connecticut is tied for the lead in the Big East, in part, because of its play on the road. Marquette, meanwhile, is close behind in the standings thanks to its success at home.
Hoping to give Jim Calhoun his 800th coaching win, the second-ranked Huskies look to remain perfect away from home while trying to end the No. 8 Golden Eagles’ winning run at the Bradley Center on Wednesday night.
Connecticut (25-2, 13-2), tied with No. 6 Louisville for first place in the Big East, looks to improve to 13-0 away from home. The Huskies have conference road wins over then-No. 25 West Virginia, then-No. 19 Notre Dame and Louisville when the Cardinals were ranked fifth.
Marquette (23-4, 12-2), meanwhile, is one-half game back of the league leaders as it tries to extend a 17-game home winning streak. Victories over then-No. 15 Villanova and then-No. 25 Georgetown have highlighted the Golden Eagles’ home success this season.
While one streak will end, both schools open a rough final two weeks of the Big East season.
“You can say it’s just another game, or the next game on the schedule - both are true - but the implications of this game are big,” Marquette guard Wesley Matthews said.
Connecticut, which dropped a spot in the AP poll after losing to current No. 1 Pitt on Feb. 16, returns home to face Notre Dame on Saturday before closing with a rematch at Pitt on March 7.
“We’ve ordered the shoulder pads and helmets,” said Calhoun, who can become the seventh coach in NCAA Division I history to record 800 victories.
Marquette visits Louisville and Pitt in a span of four days before finishing at home against Syracuse.
“They’re all absolutely brutal to me, whether they’re at home or on the road, the first five, last five, middle five,” first-year Marquette coach Buzz Williams said.
The Golden Eagles are 2-1 all-time against Connecticut and won 94-79 over the Huskies on Jan. 3, 2006, in the last meeting at Milwaukee. Connecticut was victorious 89-73 in the teams’ only matchup last season.
UConn’s frontcourt of 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet, 6-9 Stanley Robinson and 6-7 Jeff Adrien combined for 40 points against the Golden Eagles last season.
Thabeet had six blocks in that contest and is second in the nation with 118. Playing their fourth game without injured guard Jerome Dyson, the Huskies are likely to use Thabeet (13.4 ppg, 10.5 rpg) to help exploit Marquette’s front line of 6-8 Dwight Burke and 6-6 Lazar Hayward.
“I don’t think you can be hesitant at all of (Thabeet), because if you come into the game nervous, then he has you beat already,” said Hayward, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds in Marquette’s 78-72 win at Georgetown on Saturday. “All you can do is attack him and hope for the best.”
After he was held to five points, four rebounds and fouled out in a 76-68 loss to Pitt, Thabeet had 21 points and six blocks in the Huskies’ 64-50 win over South Florida on Saturday.
Adrien pulled down 15 rebounds as UConn overcame a 41.3-percent shooting effort by holding the Bulls to 32.2 percent from the field.
“It shouldn’t worry us,” said Adrien, who has 33 points and 13 rebounds in his last two games versus Marquette. “We just have to play better offensively and score some baskets.”
While UConn has a chance to do that against a Marquette team allowing 68.1 points per game, the Huskies need a strong defensive effort versus the Golden Eagles’ three-guard lineup.
Matthews had 23 points and Jerel McNeal added 22 against Georgetown for the Golden Eagles’ third straight win after losing two in a row. McNeal is third in the Big East averaging 20.0.
After a pair of 19-point games against UConn, McNeal was held to nine versus the Huskies last season.