STORRS, Conn. (AP)—Connecticut entered this season with eight freshmen and five sophomores, being billed as a team that was very young and very talented.
In the season opener Friday, they mostly looked young.
The 18th-ranked Huskies scored just 18 second-half points, shooting 17 percent from the field after intermission, but held on to beat in-state rival Quinnipiac 53-46.
Freshman Jerome Dyson led the Huskies with 16 points, 12 of them in the first half. Jeff Adrien added 14 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, three of them coming in the final 2 minutes, to help preserve the win.
“We weren’t executing as much as we should have in the second half,” Dyson said. “We came out a little sluggish. The other team played a good game, but we weren’t executing.”
Chris Wheye led Quinnipiac with 17 points and eight rebounds. DeMario Anderson added 11 points.
Down 35-16 at the half, the Bobcats went on a 17-4 run after intermission, and continued to chip away at the UConn lead. When Adam Gonzalez hit a 3-pointer with just 2:33 to go, they were within two at 48-46.
But sophomore Craig Austrie hit a 3-pointer, and the UConn defense didn’t allow another basket.
“That first half, I’ve never seen a Connecticut team play as hard as that team did,” Quinnipiac coach Joe DeSantis said. “But our guys showed a lot of heart and battled. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest game.”
Quinnipiac shot just 26 percent for the game, and was outrebounded 55 to 40. Five Bobcats had at least four fouls and Wheye fouled out with 40 seconds left in the game.
The Huskies had 21 turnovers, and shot just 15 of 34 from the free-throw line.
“We shot fouls at 78 percent in practice. We can’t even think about making a foul shot in a game,” coach Jim Calhoun said. “We can’t make a play. We have no leadership at the guard position.”
Guard A.J. Price, who had been touted by Calhoun as one of the best guards in the nation, shot just 2-of-11 from the floor and had just seven point and four assists to go with three turnovers.
“I played bad. I played terrible,” Price said. “I need to step it up personally as a player. I don’t think I pressed. I don’t think I really forced anything. I just think things weren’t bouncing my way.”
UConn did play defense, led by Adrien, and 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet, who had 11 rebounds and seven blocked shots. His most spectacular came when DeMario Anderson attempted a layup with just over 9 minutes to go and Thabeet grabbed it out of the air with both hands.
The Huskies have never lost to Quinnipiac, winning all eight meetings since the teams first played in 1998, including a 111-75 win last season.
But that team had Josh Boone, Rudy Gay, Hilton Armstrong, Marcus Williams and Denham Brown, who all left for the NBA.
Connecticut went 30-4 last season, and tied Villanova for the best record in the Big East at 14-2. The Huskies received a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but were stunned by George Mason 86-84 in overtime in the Washington Regional final.
UConn went 16-0 at home last season, and has never lost a season opener at Gampel Pavilion, winning 17 straight since the building opened in 1990.