BATON ROUGE, La. (AP)—LSU’s most dominant player got some peace of mind from what he saw while sitting on the bench, then returned to help the Tigers finish off Connecticut.
“For the first time ever I felt relieved. I felt like I didn’t have to worry about anything,” said Glen Davis, whose 16 points helped No. 14 LSU defeat No. 18 UConn 66-49 on Saturday night. “Everybody played good and I wasn’t as eager to get back into the game because everybody was contributing and having a good time and making shots.”
Tasmin Mitchell also had 16 points and 10 rebounds for LSU (11-3), while Garrett Temple added 14 points in a game defined in many ways by what the Tigers did when Davis wasn’t on the floor.
UConn (12-2), which starts all underclassmen, remained winless on the road because of 12 turnovers in the second half and an inability to hit from outside down the stretch.
The Huskies hit only 31.6 percent of their shots. LSU shot 40.4 percent, fighting for timely offensive rebounds that led to second-chance points and prevented UConn from making a late run.
UConn coach Jim Calhoun called LSU “the most physical team was have played all year.”
“They play well together. They defended the hell out of us,” Calhoun said.
Jerome Dyson led Connecticut with 12 points and was the only UConn player to score in double figures.
LSU had to overcome a slow start and did so with Davis on the bench during the last 6:35 of the first half.
“Without Glen in the game, we seem to rely on one another more and execute offense a little bit better,” LSU coach John Brady said. “We slowed down a little bit and knew we had to execute in order for it to work and kind of got a little better rhythm of offense.”
Magnum Rolle subbed in and had three rebounds and a block during that stretch, while reserve guard Tack Minor added a steal, two layups and a nearly 30-foot jumper at the halftime buzzer, which gave LSU its first lead of the game at 30-28.
The basket sent the packed crowd into a frenzy as Minor skipped triumphantly off the floor.
“I was proud of Tack. He showed improvement. You don’t have to score a lot of baskets to be efficient with this team,” Brady said. “He certainly made a step tonight. We want to keep making positive steps with him.”
Davis returned with force in the second half. And while he proved difficult to stop close to the basket, it was his hustle in the back court that sparked the decisive run that helped LSU build a double-digit lead.
He sprawled to the floor to prevent UConn from turning a tipped pass into a breakaway basket that could have tied the score at 34. Davis flipped the ball to Temple, who dribbled back into the front court and pulled up for a 3-pointer.
The play ignited a 12-4 run, capped by Mitchell’s driving layup through a crowd, that put LSU ahead 46-36 with 9:43 to go.
Minutes later, Davis grabbed an offensive rebound near the baseline, then muscled his way into the lane against three defenders and spun the ball in off the glass as he was fouled. His free throw put LSU ahead 49-38.
UConn appeared to get break when Davis was called for his fourth foul with more than 5 minutes remaining. The Huskies settled for jump shots, which they struggled to make, and LSU pulled farther away on Temple’s three-point play on a fast-break layup and Mitchell’s easy follow-up of Temple’s missed 3-point attempt.
Mitchell’s basket gave the Tigers a 56-43 lead with 4:08 to go and Connecticut could not recover.
UConn exhibited frenetic, hustling defense from the opening tip and it resulted in an early lead. Attacking the ball-handler and swarming to the passing lanes, the Huskies forced six LSU turnovers in the first 10 minutes and rarely allowed an open look at the basket.
LSU shot barely better than 20 percent in that opening stretch as Davis was the only Tigers player to hit a field goal in the first 9 minutes.
Connecticut led 15-6 on Hasheem Thabeet’s jumper before Temple gave LSU it’s first basket from someone other than Davis with 10:50 remaining in the opening half.
Dyson’s 3-pointer gave UConn a 24-16 lead before the Tigers, behind Minor and Rolle, began to seize momentum with an 11-2 run to close to 26-25.
“I felt like we were controlling the game. We were running. They were very scared of our fast break,” UConn guard A.J. Price said of the opening 15 minutes. “From then, I don’t know what happened. We slowed down. We started running a half-court offense. They took us out of what we wanted to do by being physical.”