HARTFORD, Conn. (AP)—As No. 4 Connecticut headed into its final game before beginning play in the Big East Conference, the emphasis was on getting some help for Kemba Walker on offense and solidifying the defense.
The Huskies did what they set out to do.
Ten Connecticut players scored in support of Walker’s 20 points and the Huskies’ suffocating defense overwhelmed Harvard in an 81-52 victory Wednesday night, hiking the Huskies’ record to 10-0.
“Since we were fortunate enough to beat Kentucky in Hawaii, that’s the first ‘Maui-type’ defense I’ve seen,” said UConn coach Jim Calhoun, whose team won the Maui Invitational four weeks ago. “I thought we just did a magnificent job.”
He will get no argument from Harvard (7-3), which came into the game as a solid 3-point shooting team (39 percent), but went just 4 of 31 against UConn from behind the arc. Overall, the Crimson shot only 30 percent.
“I thought it was hard for us to get up over them,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “They are really an outstanding team with their length and the size up front, and their ability to change shots.”
It didn’t take long for the Huskies to establish the tone of the game.
They harassed Harvard into missing its first 12 shots and committing five turnovers in the opening 8:07 as UConn raced to a 13-2 lead and never looked back. With 6:48 remaining in the first half, the Huskies had stretched the margin to 28-6 and it would grow to 48-21 by halftime.
“We’ve been a pretty good shooting team,” Amaker said. “I thought our kids were really frustrated with not being able to make some shots. Give UConn all the credit in the world. I think they’re tremendous.”
The Crimson fared a little better in the second half as top scorer Keith Wright (18 points) was able to shake free of UConn’s double-teams, but it was far too late. Harvard cut the lead to 19 twice, the last time at 63-44 with 10:28 remaining, but UConn responded with an 11-2 run to make it 74-46 and remove all doubt about the outcome.
Walker, the nation’s second-leading scorer, scored 20 or more points for the ninth consecutive game, while Jeremy Lamb had 11 and Alex Oriakhi 10.
“If we play like this every night, there isn’t much else you can ask for,” Walker said. “There’s going to be nights when the shots don’t fall. As long as we give effort and play defense like this, we should be fine.”
UConn, picked to finish 10th in the Big East in a preseason poll of the league’s coaches, begins conference play as the highest-ranked team in the league. The Huskies start their Big East schedule at No. 6 Pittsburgh on Monday.
“To be 10-0 at this point well, I’m never shocked, and I’m not even surprised,” Calhoun said. “I’m just very thankful that our team played the way they did today. We’ve got a lot of stuff ahead of us. I’m not sure what everybody is going to do, but I do know, with what I saw today, that we can play anybody pretty well with that kind of defense.”