Jim Calhoun is used to Connecticut being one of the nation’s top rebounding teams, so his club’s struggles to grab control on the boards - particularly in their latest game - has left the two-time national champion coach scratching his head.
He’s certainly not used to three-game losing streaks.
The 15th-ranked Huskies look to avoid their first three-game slide in nearly three years Sunday afternoon in Ann Arbor, where Michigan is trying to turn its season around despite its own rebounding issues.
Connecticut (11-5) has been first or second in the Big East in rebound differential for the past seven seasons, and its 8.0 overall advantage over that span is by far the best in the nation.
With Jeff Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet gone, though, the Huskies are having problems winning the battle of the boards. Georgetown’s 12 offensive rebounds helped spark a comeback from a 15-point halftime deficit to beat UConn 72-69 on Jan. 9, then No. 16 Pittsburgh grabbed 19 offensive boards and used a 26-13 second-half edge on the glass to edge the Huskies 67-57 on Wednesday in Hartford.
Leading scorers Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson, who also average 12.5 rebounds, totaled three against Pitt.
“I have to crash the boards harder,” Robinson said. “We have to outrebound teams. That’s something we used to do.”
Calhoun called the Huskies’ rebounding issues a “season-long problem,” and the numbers back him up. UConn’s 3.1 per game rebound differential is 11th in the Big East, though freshman Alex Oriakhi (team-high 8.6 per game) is coming on.
The Huskies haven’t lost three straight since losing their last four games in 2006-07.
“I’m not used to coming down to games where the other team grabs control of the game, as both Georgetown and Pittsburgh did the last two games,” Calhoun said. “It’s very disappointing.”
Aside from the Huskies’ rebounding issues, Dyson has had consecutive subpar offensive games. Dyson scored 12 against Georgetown and 14 against Pitt, well below his 19.9-point average entering those games.
Perhaps facing Michigan (9-7) will get Dyson going. He had 19 points in a 69-61 win over the Wolverines on Feb. 7 in Storrs - the final points he scored last season before tearing his ACL early in a Feb. 11 game against Syracuse.
The Huskies dominated the glass in that game, 47-24, and Michigan finished the season with a minus-3.3 rebound differential - 10th in the Big Ten.
It’s again near the bottom of the conference at minus-1.8, but edged Indiana 36-29 on the glass Thursday and won the game even more decisively. Manny Harris had 17 of his 21 in the second half after briefly being benched, helping the Wolverines bounce back from a second-half collapse against Northwestern by trouncing the Hoosiers 69-45, their third win in four games.
“You’re not saying to them, `Don’t blow this one,’” coach John Beilein said. “You’re just saying, ‘Good job.’ We’re winning with our defense.”
Michigan’s student section had time in the second half to begin a “Beat the Hus-kies! Beat the Hus-kies!” chant, and any chance of doing so will likely hinge on Harris.
Harris, the Big Ten’s leading scorer at 19.8 points per game, will look to atone for a rough shooting game against UConn last season. He scored 15 points but went 5 of 16 from the field, and Beilein knows Dyson, Robinson and Kemba Walker will be ready for him again.
“I’m sure whoever Connecticut’s big defensive force is, he’s going to be on Manny,” Beilein said.
This is UConn’s first visit to Ann Arbor.