LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP)—Rudy Gay was having a good time after a great game.
The sophomore forward had just scored a career-high 28 points that included three highlight-reel moves and No. 3 Connecticut overcame turnover problems to beat Arkansas 77-68 on Monday night in the opening round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
Gay was asked about the last of the spectacular plays, a move where he grabbed a rebound under the basket, went right up and flipped it off the glass as he was falling to the floor.
“Oh that one,” he said, preparing to make his creativity even better. “The guy punched me in the stomach then poked me in the eye. He broke my nose and I set in back in place on the way down.”
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun was enjoying the exaggeration when he interrupted.
“Those plays are called gifts from God,” he said.
The Huskies (2-0) will play No. 9 Arizona in Tuesday’s semifinals. The Wildcats advanced with a 61-49 victory over Kansas.
Gay bettered his previous best of 20 points last season against Georgetown. But the concern for the Huskies was taking care of the ball in the absence of point guard Marcus Williams, who was suspended until January for his part in the theft of laptops from a dorm room.
Connecticut finished with 23 turnovers and that kept the Huskies from putting away Arkansas (1-1).
“We may get that player back, if we do, we do,” Calhoun said. “But this is our team. We had 18 turnovers in the opener against Pepperdine so we don’t discriminate. We expect to face pressure and we will tomorrow against Arizona.”
Connecticut led 55-38 with 11:07 left on the second of Gay’s monster dunks.
Arkansas used a 9-0 run, during which Connecticut committed two big turnovers, to get within 59-56 with 5:39 to play.
The Razorbacks were within 64-60 when Gay scored by flipping a rebound off the glass as he was falling. That was followed by a 3-pointer from Denham Brown and then another nice move by Gay, who scored on a drive by laying it in with his left hand.
Jonathan Modica stole the ball from Connecticut’s Rashad Anderson and scored with 30 seconds left to make it 72-68, but the Huskies went 5-of-6 from the free throw line to end the game.
“We were down big in the second half and cut it to three,” Arkansas coach Stan Heath said. “We battled and battled and fought and competed. I’m not taking any victory from a loss, but those are mistakes we can correct.”
Brown had 21 points for Connecticut.
Junior guard Ronnie Brewer had a career-high 25 for the Razorbacks, one more than he had in the season-opening win over Portland State. Modica added 13 for Arkansas, which committed 20 turnovers but had 13 steals, six by Brewer.
“Early we took quick shots and that led to them scoring on fastbreaks,” Brewer said. “But we started running our offense in the second half and got back in the game.”
Connecticut shot 50.9 percent (27-for-53) and outrebounded the Razorbacks 37-25 but the Huskies struggled to win because of the turnovers.
“We’re going to have to work hard to fix things up,” Calhoun said. “We’ll start to handle the ball with passing instead of dribbling.”