UConn-SMU Preview


Connecticut's two-game trip to Texas to open American Athletic Conference play was expected to feature a tricky test on the back end.

The Huskies certainly didn't anticipate arriving in Dallas just looking to salvage a split.

Seventeenth-ranked UConn looks to bounce back from an ugly loss Saturday when it faces SMU, which figures to be fired up for the debut of the renovated Moody Coliseum.

The Mustangs (10-3, 0-1) are among the nation's top 10 from the floor (50.4 percent) and among the top five in defensive field-goal percentage (35.7), so the Huskies knew before they left Storrs they could have trouble sweeping their first two games in the AAC.

Instead, UConn (11-2, 0-1) will be trying not to get swept. The Huskies dug out of a 21-point hole Tuesday night at Houston and led by three with 1:43 left, but the Cougars - losers of five of eight coming in - scored the game's final seven points to stun UConn 75-71.

"We played terrible," said Ryan Boatright, who had season highs of 19 points and nine assists. "They beat us in every category of the basketball game. We got back in the game simply because we are more talented than them, but they came to play."

Leading scorer Shabazz Napier had just two of his 27 points before halftime.

"I'm the captain," the senior said. "It starts with myself. I am one of the veterans, and I didn't bring it. I have no clue why I didn't play up to my capabilities. I didn't bring it that first half."

The Huskies are still among the nation's leaders in 3-point percentage (42.0), but they've fallen off over the last four games. UConn is shooting 30.3 percent from beyond the arc in that stretch, which has featured both of its losses, as Napier has gone 6 for 18 after hitting 57.1 percent during the 9-0 start.

"We play in spurts, and I've been telling y'all that this whole season," coach Kevin Ollie said. "We can't play in spurts, because we're not good enough. ... We have to pull ourselves out of this pit right now, and try to win one at SMU."

Ollie, a Dallas native, will face one of his mentors in SMU's Larry Brown, who coached the former guard with the Philadelphia 76ers from 1999-2001.

The Mustangs have held their last six opponents to 26.6 percent shooting from long distance, but offensive miscues were their undoing in their first conference game. SMU turned it over 17 times Wednesday in a 65-57 loss at Cincinnati, shooting nine free throws to the Bearcats' 31.

"You are not going to have too much success like that," Brown said.

SMU was enjoying plenty of success at the Curtis Caldwell Center in nearby Garland, where it played its first six home games as the on-campus Moody Coliseum's renovations were completed. The Mustangs shot 56.1 percent in winning all six, outscoring opponents by 25.3 per game with an average rebounding edge of plus-15.1.

The Huskies may want to rely on their perimeter game with SMU big men Markus Kennedy and Yanick Moreira patrolling the paint. The Mustangs' average rebounding margin of plus-9.0 is among the top 15 in the nation while UConn's is just plus-0.1.

The 6-foot-1 Napier leads the Huskies with 6.5 rebounds per game.

While Napier and Boatright give UConn a high-scoring backcourt, it could use more from sophomore guard Omar Calhoun. Benched in favor of 3-point specialist Niels Giffey in the last two games, Calhoun averaged 15.0 points in UConn's first three games but has since averaged 5.7 on 28.4 percent shooting.

UConn and SMU have met once - an 80-66 Mustangs win in Dallas in 1965.