Looking to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in more than 20 years, SMU could use every big win it can get.
The Mustangs have plenty of opportunities to strengthen their resume with three of their final four regular-season games coming against current Top 25 teams, starting Sunday when they travel to take on No. 21 Connecticut.
SMU (21-6 10-4 American Athletic Conference), which hasn't made the tournament since 1993, is looking to bolster its case to the selection committee with March less than a week away. The Mustangs' hopes may have taken a hit with a 71-64 loss to last-place Temple last Sunday, but they bounced back to beat Houston 68-64 on Wednesday.
"We have to man up and realize we have to play harder than our opponent," coach Larry Brown said. "We have to execute better and we have to stick together and not splinter when things are going bad."
The game against the Huskies presents a good chance for the Mustangs to help lock down a tournament bid, as could upcoming matchups with No. 11 Louisville and No. 22 Memphis in the final week of the regular season. They're 3-1 versus ranked opponents, including a 74-65 victory over then-No. 17 UConn on Jan. 4.
However, SMU lost its only road contest against a ranked team this season, at No. 12 Louisville on Jan. 12, and hasn't won one since knocking off then-No. 17 Purdue 60-59 on Dec. 21, 2003.
The Mustangs have won five of six overall while holding opponents to 63.2 points per game on 37.5 percent shooting, but they're facing a Huskies team averaging 78.0 points during a four-game winning streak.
Leading the way for UConn (21-5, 9-4) has been Shabazz Napier, who ranks second in the conference at 20.2 points per game in AAC play.
Napier struggled shooting the ball in the team's last game, going 3 for 11 from the field in a 68-55 win at Temple on Thursday. However, he was 11 of 11 from the free-throw line and finished with a game-high 17 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
"It wasn't a particularly good shooting night for him," coach Kevin Ollie said of Napier. "But he does other things."
Backcourt mate Ryan Boatright has averaged 17.5 points over his last two games after totaling just 29 in his first three games this month.
"He's doing a good job for us," Ollie said of Boatright. "He's allowing me to coach him and that's what I want. He's going to be a great point guard for us."
Boatright had 15 points in the first meeting with SMU while Napier was held to 12 and shot 2 for 9 from the field. Nic Moore led the Mustangs with 20 points and is averaging 17.8 over the last eight games.
Moore was the only SMU player in double figures Wednesday with 16 points despite shooting 4 of 11 from the field. The team's reserves picked up the slack, scoring 31 points and grabbing 21 rebounds.
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