Following two narrow losses, Connecticut’s week-long layoff may have come at a good time. So might Ryan Boatright’s return.
The Huskies will have Boatright available when they try to cool off visiting Notre Dame on Sunday.
UConn has been idle since a 60-57 defeat at Tennessee on Jan. 21, which came three days after a 70-67 home loss to Cincinnati. The Huskies (14-5, 4-3 Big East) trailed for most of the second half against the sub-.500 Volunteers.
Connecticut has lost four of six games this month, failing to score more than 67 points in any of them after getting held under that mark just twice during a 12-1 start. Plus, UConn is forcing 9.3 turnovers per game in January, among the worst in the nation.
“We’re not getting enough on offense. We’re not getting enough on defense. There is only so much each person can do,” said Shabazz Napier, one of the few bright spots in the last two games with a combined 45 points. “If I knew what the problem was we wouldn’t be losing.”
Napier and leading scorer Jeremy Lamb could have some help Sunday. Boatright was forced to miss the last three games during an NCAA investigation into his eligibility, but the school announced Saturday that he has been cleared to play.
The freshman guard has averaged 10.2 points and 26.4 minutes off the bench, and his absence led to Lamb and Napier playing 235 of a possible 240 minutes the last three games. Boatright missed the first six games because of another infraction involving the acceptance of a plane ticket while he was playing AAU basketball.
While Boatright’s return lifts some pressure off UConn’s starting backcourt, coach Jim Calhoun wants the team to play stronger inside. Freshman center Andre Drummond had posted three straight double-doubles before averaging 5.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in the last two games. Forward Alex Oriakhi totaled seven points on 3-of-13 shooting in those losses and fouled out against Tennessee.
That duo now tries to help UConn bounce back against the last team it beat. Drummond and Oriakhi combined for 22 points and 20 rebounds in a 67-53 win at Notre Dame on Jan. 14. The Huskies had a 43-33 rebounding edge.
While UConn likely needs a win to stay in the Top 25, a victory for Notre Dame would give it a good case to join the rankings for the first time this season.
The Irish (13-8, 5-3) didn’t receive any votes in this week’s AP poll despite handing then-No. 1 Syracuse its first loss last Saturday.
Notre Dame followed that win with a 55-42 road victory over Seton Hall on Wednesday. The Irish held the previously ranked Pirates to 26.3 percent shooting and leading scorer Herb Pope to five points.
“In some ways, this game is bigger than Saturday because we handled a great win so well mentally and turned around and beat a really good team on the road,” coach Mike Brey said. “I told our team, ‘If you get this one, I think you’re showing signs of possibly being special,’ and they delivered.”
Jerian Grant scored 15 points, going 10 of 12 at the free-throw line, while Jack Cooley continued his strong play with a second straight double-double. He’s averaged 14.8 points and 9.5 rebounds over the last 12 games.
Cooley and Grant were held to a combined 13 points on 4-of-16 shooting in the loss to UConn. The Irish shot 32.3 percent, helping the Huskies overcome Lamb scoring a season-low six points - nearly 12 below his average.
Notre Dame snapped a seven-game road losing streak against UConn with a 70-67 victory last March.