Big East openers haven’t been favorable to Connecticut in recent years, and this season’s was no different.
The No. 10 Huskies look to avoid consecutive conference losses to start the season for the first time in 20 years when they host Notre Dame on Saturday.
Connecticut (9-3, 0-1) lost its Big East opener for the fifth time in six years after falling 71-69 at Cincinnati on Wednesday. The team now returns home, where it went 8-0 during its non-conference slate.
The Huskies haven’t gone 0-2 to start conference play since 1989-90, when they regrouped to go 12-4 in the Big East for the regular-season title. Connecticut also won the conference tournament that season and eventually reached the NCAA tournament regional final.
To avoid consecutive defeats, Connecticut must shoot better than it did versus Cincinnati. The Huskies, who shot 32.4 percent in the first half, rallied from a 12-point deficit, but Lance Stephenson hit two free throws for the winning points with less than a second to play after being fouled by Connecticut’s Gavin Edwards.
“It was a tough call,” Edwards said. “There was a lot going on on that play. He ran into me. I didn’t come down into his arm.”
The loss snapped Connecticut’s three-game winning streak and came despite Jerome Dyson scoring 24 points.
Depth continues to be an issue as only two players finished in double figures, with Stanley Robinson adding 22. Ater Majok was a non-factor once again as he didn’t attempt a field goal in 20 minutes. The former refugee from Sudan is averaging 2.0 points and 3.8 rebounds in 17.5 minutes.
The Huskies’ other big man, 6-foot-9 Alex Oriakhi had four points and nine rebounds, but the team did not record a blocked shot for the first time since Jan. 30, 2001.
The Huskies have a good chance to bounce back against Notre Dame (12-2, 1-0). They have won six straight at home over the Irish since a 75-70 loss in January 2000.
Notre Dame is looking to win its fourth straight while playing its first true road game. The Irish, whose only games outside the Joyce Center were in the Chicago Invitational Challenge in November, opened the Big East season with a 93-78 victory over Providence on Wednesday.
They finished the first half on a 13-1 run to lead 53-32, and were 11 of 22 from 3-point range overall.
“It was our first Big East game and everybody wanted to go out there and win this one,” said Ben Hansbrough, who had 10 points and 10 assists. “In the second half we got a little bit more relaxed. We’re going to learn from that and get a little bit more of a killer mentality.”
Despite shooting 6 for 21, Luke Harangody finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds for his school-record 57th career double-double.
“It wasn’t a great offensive game for him, but he was able to grab defensive rebounds and that as key,” said coach Mike Brey, who recorded his 200th victory at Notre Dame. “Sometimes you just have to fight through it and as a leader he can do that.”
Harangody, leading the team at 23.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, has averaged 21.0 points and 11.5 rebounds in four games against the Huskies.
This is the first of three Top 10 opponents for the Irish in their next five games.