Cincinnati beats Connecticut in Calhoun’s return
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP)—Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said one emotion dominated all others in his return from a 3 1/2 week medical leave of absence— embarrassment.
Lance Stephenson scored 14 points and Cincinnati beat UConn 60-48 on Saturday, holding the Huskies to their lowest point total since 2002.
“I thought it was one of the worst performances I’ve had here at UConn in 24 years,” said Calhoun, who had been sidelined with an undisclosed medical condition since Jan. 19. “I’m really incredibly disappointed by the performance, and I’m embarrassed by it, quite frankly.”
Cincinnati kept its NCAA tournament hopes alive with the win. Ibrahima Thomas and Deonta Vaughn each had 10 points and Thomas had 11 rebounds for the Bearcats (15-9, 6-6 Big East), who won for the first time in three games.
“Whenever you start getting road wins, you start to separate yourself,” Cincinnati coach Mike Cronin said. “When you start talking about NCAA tournament bids … road wins are huge, and you factor in what is a quality win. We won at UConn, Texas did not, so people have a lot of respect for this win, regardless of UConn’s conference record.”
Kemba Walker had 14 points for the Huskies (14-11, 4-8), who were 3-4 while Calhoun was out, and have lost five of their last six. Jerome Dyson added 13 points, 10 in the second half.
Cincinnati outrebounded UConn 46-32 and had 19 offensive boards. Connecticut’s three big men, Ater Majok, Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu, combined for zero points and six rebounds.
Vaughn called that Cincinnati’s “no paint” game.
“Basically, when we came into the game we was like, ‘Let’s play the no paint game, try not to let them get inside of the paint and score as much as they wanted to.”’
Calhoun received a standing ovation as he walked onto the XL Center court for pregame warmups, and another when he was introduced to the crowd. But those same fans booed the Huskies in the second half.
Calhoun said he doesn’t believe the emotion of his return had anything to do with the Huskies’ poor performance.
“One has nothing to do with the other,” he said. “I didn’t die. I was around.”
The Bearcats used a 19-3 run to turn a 22-17 first-half deficit into a 36-25 second-half lead.
Cincinnati stretched that to as many as 15 points, and when Dion Dixon hit a layup with 3:38 left it was 51-36.
UConn tried to mount a late comeback, and cut the deficit to six twice in the final 2 minutes.
But the Bearcats hit their free throws down the stretch and held on for the win.
“The past couple of games, we haven’t finished well, and that was something that was our main focus today, and defensive stops,” Thomas said. “The more stops you get, the less points they have.”
Neither team shot well. Cincinnati hit 37 percent from the field, but held UConn to 34 percent. The Huskies made just nine of their 30 shots in the second half.
The 67-year-old Calhoun left the team on Jan. 19 at the end of a three-game losing streak. After associate head coach George Blaney took over, the team won two straight, including an upset of then-No. 1 Texas. But since that game, the Huskies are 1-5.
“I agree with (Calhoun),” Walker said. “For him to come back, and for us to play like that is an embarrassment.”
It didn’t take Calhoun long to get back into the job. The Hall of Famer made three substitutions in the first 2 minutes, and called a timeout less than 3 minutes in, after Cincinnati took a 4-0 lead.
The Huskies didn’t score until Stanley Robinson hit a jumper almost 5 minutes into the game, but trailed just 9-7 at the first media timeout.
The Bearcats hit four of their first 18 shots, and UConn went on a 7-0 run to take its first lead. A steal, drive and dunk by Robinson made it 20-14, but Cincinnati closed the first half on an 8-2 run to tie the game at 22.
Connecticut scored five points in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
UConn lost 71-69 at Cincinnati in December, the Big East opener for both schools, when the Huskies were ranked No. 10 in the nation.
The win was Cincinnati’s second in eight road games.