STORRS, Conn. (AP)—Jim Calhoun needed a way to get his team’s attention after a bad home loss. He simply wrote down the rest of the schedule. It worked like a charm.
Connecticut, coming off a 12-point home loss to Providence, rebounded with its first win over a ranked opponent in almost two years, 89-73 over No. 13 Marquette on Sunday.
“I just wrote who we had to still play on one side and then I put the Big East standings on the other,” Calhoun said of what he did before Friday’s practice. “I showed them who we had left and how hard it was going to be but also pointed out that we still had a chance to be one of the better teams in the conference. They knew Marquette was a quality team and these are the teams we’ll be playing.”
Point guard A.J. Price, who had 17 points and eight assists, said the schedule on the blackboard was a very good idea.
“It helped us greatly, especially after we played so bad against Providence,” he said. “When we saw the standings we realized we were in the hunt and that if we could get on a winning streak we could be in the top four.”
It also helped that 7-foot-3 sophomore Hasheem Thabeet had one of his best games at Connecticut. He had 15 points, seven rebounds and six blocked shots as the Huskies (12-5, 3-3) lived up to their defensive statistics while also coming up with one their best offensive showings of the season.
“We’re getting better every day and we always play defense,” Thabeet said. “We had poise today.”
It was the second straight big loss for Marquette (13-4, 3-3), which lost 71-51 to Louisville on Thursday. The Golden Eagles had their third poor shooting game in their last four, finishing at 40 percent (26-for-65), a number which they improved significantly with a scoring flurry over the game’s final minutes.
Connecticut came into the game sixth in the nation in field goal percentage defense (36.8) and led the country in blocked shots (9.2). The Huskies finished with 10 blocks Sunday with Thabeet, who was 3-for-3 from the field and 9-for-13 from the free throw line, leading the way.
“I felt Hasheem owned the middle,” Calhoun said. “We decided to take advantage of our size right away by going inside on offense and that’s what allowed us to be 5-for-11 on 3s.”
Marquette shot a season-worst 30.4 percent in the loss to Louisville which included missing all 12 of its 3-point attempts. On Sunday, the Golden Eagles were 10-for-21 from beyond the arc.
“I’m more concerned we’re not making stops defensively.” Marquette coach Tom Crean said when asked about his team’s recent shooting woes. “Hopefully we’ll get something from the way we played the last 10, 12 minutes. We have to play with our hair on fire to be good.”
Connecticut’s last win over a ranked team was over then-No. 17 Washington in the regional semifinals of the 2006 NCAA tournament, the game before the Huskies lost to George Mason for the right to advance to the Final Four.
Calhoun said the players “didn’t have a clue” about the losing streak against ranked teams.
“Probably at the end you saw me a bit frustrated,” he said of Marquette’s scoring over the final 10 minutes. “I just wanted a totally dominating experience, because we haven’t had that against a team obviously like Marquette.”
Jeff Adrien and Craig Austrie both had 15 points for the Huskies, who had lost two straight and three of four.
Lazar Hayward had 14 points for the Golden Eagles, who had won two of three, and Wesley Matthews added 13. Dominic James, Marquette’s leading scorer with a 14.1 average, finished with nine points on 4-for-10 shooting.
“He’s tough, he’s not asking out, but he’s just not 100 percent,” Crean said of James, who injured his right wrist four games ago when he was fouled hard. “He hurt it again against Louisville. We’ll just have to see how he feels.”
The Huskies were 33-for-39 from the free throw line while the Golden Eagles were 11-for-18.
Connecticut took a 12-4 lead as Marquette missed 10 of its first 11 shots from the field. The Huskies stretched the lead to 39-24 at halftime by holding the Golden Eagles to 27.6 percent (8-for-29), while hitting 51.7 percent (15-for-29).
The offensive struggles continued for Marquette at the start of the second half as the Golden Eagles missed seven of their first nine shots as the Huskies opened a 51-29 lead on a three-point play by Jerome Dyson with 13:49 to play.
The biggest lead was 67-38 on a foul line jumper by Thabeet with 9:30 to go.
The losing streak against ranked opponents was the Huskies’ longest since it dropped 10 straight to Top 25 teams in Calhoun’s first two seasons at Connecticut.