Connecticut got coach Jim Calhoun his 800th win in its latest game, and might be headed back to the top of the AP Poll after it fell from No. 1 earlier this week.
If A.J. Price keeps playing like he did Wednesday, that might be a spot the Huskies don’t relinquish.
After carrying his team to a road win over a top-10 opponent, Price will look to help second-ranked UConn further state its case for No. 1 on Saturday afternoon against visiting Notre Dame, which may need another marquee win to boost its NCAA tournament resume.
The Huskies (26-2, 14-2 Big East) fell to then-No. 4 Pittsburgh in Hartford on Feb. 16, a loss that not only snapped their 13-game winning streak but knocked them from the nation’s No. 1 ranking.
UConn beat South Florida last Saturday, though, and Pitt, which had ascended to the AP’s top spot after defeating the Huskies, fell at Providence on Tuesday, leaving No. 1 up for grabs again.
Calhoun’s team didn’t waste its first opportunity to make its case. Price scored a career-high 36 points—hitting 8-of-13 3-pointers—Wednesday night at No. 8 Marquette and UConn won 93-82, making Calhoun just the seventh coach to win 800 games in Division I history.
After joining the likes of Bob Knight, Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp, Calhoun likened Price’s performance to those of some UConn legends—Ben Gordon, Richard Hamilton and Ray Allen.
“He’s seen the best of them,” Price said. “He’s made pros, and just for him to mention my name in the same sentence as those guys is special.”
Price’s performance was even more critical considering what the Huskies were missing in Milwaukee. Guard Jerome Dyson is out for the season with a knee injury and second-leading scorer Jeff Adrien (13.4 points per game) was a non-factor, going 0-for-4 and finishing with two points.
To help make up for Adrien’s struggles, though, Stanley Robinson (6.3 ppg) had a season-high 19 points.
“We’ve had teams that have maybe had more names, in some ways,” Calhoun said. “But this team is getting to be pretty good. A performance like tonight gives you a hint that we can really do some special things.”
UConn wasn’t nearly as good offensively in its first meeting with Notre Dame (16-11, 7-8), but it was defense that earned it a 69-61 win in South Bend on Jan. 24. The Huskies limited the Fighting Irish to a season-low 32.9 percent shooting and Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet combined for 30 rebounds to end the Irish’s 45-game home winning streak.
Notre Dame was No. 19 in the nation at the time, but hasn’t been near the Top 25 since that loss, the third of seven straight during its midseason tailspin.
The Irish, however, have won four of five since. But as good as they’ve looked at times - most notably in a 33-point win over then-No. 5 Louisville on Feb. 12 - they played just well enough to escape with a win Wednesday, beating woeful Rutgers 70-65.
Luke Harangody had 20 points and 15 rebounds but shot just 7-of-25.
“It wasn’t one of the prettiest nights, especially for me,” Harangody said. “We weren’t hitting shots, but we knew we had to come down and get in them and rebound. That’s what we did to get the win, and that’s the important thing.”
Harangody, the Big East’s leading scorer (24.0 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (12.6), had 24 points and 15 boards in the loss to UConn last month.
While Harangody will have his hands full with Thabeet, the nation’s second-leading shot blocker, the Irish’s chances may depend on Kyle McAlarney. The senior guard had 32 points in Notre Dame’s 73-67 win over the Huskies on Jan. 5, 2008, but has averaged 8.0 points in his other three games against UConn.
Notre Dame has lost its last five road meetings with the Huskies.