HARTFORD, Conn. (AP)—A.J. Price said he never doubted Connecticut would beat West Virginia, not even when the Mountaineers trimmed a 17-point deficit to just three late in the second half.
Price scored 24 points and the 15th-ranked Huskies held on for a 79-71 victory Saturday, their 12th win in 13 games.
“We know how good we are,” said Price, who had five 3-pointers. “We know what we have here. We know if we stay true to what we do, we’re going to win. It’s just staying mentally tough.”
Jeff Adrien had 17 points and 10 rebounds—his 16th double-double of the season—for Connecticut (23-6, 12-4 Big East).
Joe Alexander had a career-high 32 points for West Virginia (20-9, 9-7), including 20 in the second half as he tried to bring the Mountaineers back from a 60-43 deficit.
West Virginia scored 20 of the next 26 points, cutting the UConn lead to 66-63 on a goaltending call against Stanley Robinson with just over 4 minutes to play. Alexander had eight points during that stretch.
“We showed tonight we can play with anybody, especially on the road,” Alexander said. “We just didn’t play strong in the first half for a few minutes and that really hurt us.”
Robinson hit a 3-pointer with 3:30 to play to push UConn’s lead back to eight, and Craig Austrie made an off-balance runner to give the Huskies a 74-65 lead. Hasheem Thabeet then blocked a shot on the other end, and UConn hung on.
It was Thabeet’s third block of the game, giving him 245 for his career and tying Donyell Marshall for second place on Connecticut’s all-time list.
“I like the way we played at times today, I really did,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. “I just thought we let up. We haven’t played with too many big leads.”
Ten of the wins during the Huskies’ run have been by single digits.
Robinson and Austrie both finished with 12 points.
The 7-foot-3 Thabeet scored just two points and spent much of the game in foul trouble after picking up two early ones as West Virginia’s Jamie Smalligan brought him outside.
With Thabeet on the bench, Gavin Edwards played 16 minutes, one off his season high, and had seven points, three rebounds and two blocked shots.
“I thought Gavin gave us a real spark,” Calhoun said. “And if I had it to do over again, Dougie Wiggins would have played more minutes. Dougie is a real spark.”
The Mountaineers took a 10-4 lead, before Wiggins got the Huskies running. He found Price for two consecutive 3-pointers that gave UConn a 21-15 lead with 11:30 left in the half.
UConn used a 14-2 run to go up 37-23 and the Huskies led by as many as 17 points on the way to a 42-29 halftime lead. Price had 13 first-half points and the Huskies defense held West Virginia to just 12-of-32 shooting from the field.
“Our problem is, we’re not consistent enough,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “We lack some consistency and we’re young. Thank God we have (senior) Darris Nichols, but the rest of our guys are young.”
Nichols finished with seven points and Alex Ruoff had 12, hitting 4-of-9 from 3-point range.
Smalligan picked up three fouls in the first 3 minutes of the second half, giving him four and sending him to the bench for much of the second half.
The Mountaineers have never won at Connecticut.
The Huskies improved to 15-1 at home this season, 8-1 in Hartford.