After nearly falling out of the AP Top 25 poll in late January, No. 11 UConn seems to be peaking at the right time.
The Huskies have won five straight games and eight of their past nine. They hope their surge to close the regular season will serve them well when they face Providence in a Big East tournament quarterfinals matchup on Thursday afternoon in New York.
UConn (24-7, 13-7 Big East) found itself as the 24th-ranked team in the country on Jan. 30 after falling six times in eight games, dealing a serious blow to the team’s confidence.
“It was depressing, it sucked. I remember it was bad,” Huskies coach Dan Hurley said. “It led to some self-doubt, but it also — I thought it got the edge back for this team.”
Got the edge back it did. The fourth-seeded Huskies have averaged 78.1 points over their past nine games and closed the regular season on a high note, cruising to a 71-59 victory over Villanova on Saturday.
Jordan Hawkins finished with a game-high 24 points against the Wildcats, while Alex Karaban added 16 points and six rebounds. Andre Jackson Jr. chipped in 10 points and seven rebounds as the Huskies picked up some more momentum for the postseason.
“Obviously we’ve positioned ourselves well for both these tournaments,” Hurley said as his team also prepares to compete in the NCAA Tournament. “This is a loose group though that I don’t think is going to have the issues in these tournaments cause I think these are guys that have a gunslinger’s mentality.”
It has been a different story for the Friars (21-10, 13-7), who have lost three of their past four games and are unranked for the first time since early January.
Fifth-seeded Providence saw its chances of finishing the season with a perfect home record fade when it lost to then-No. 19 Xavier last Wednesday before Seton Hall visited on Saturday and trounced the Friars, 82-58.
Devin Carter had 14 points and Ed Croswell had 13 to go along with nine rebounds against the Pirates, but Providence made just 4 of 23 shots from beyond the arc and let Seton Hall shoot 62.5 percent from the field.
Although the Friars weren’t able to finish the regular season strong, coach Ed Cooley is embracing the adversity and still has faith that his team can make some noise.
“Very rare in our tenure have we had losses going into the Big East tournament,” Cooley said. “Normally we’re hitting our stride, normally we’re moving forward, so this will be good for our coaching staff, it’ll be good for our players to go through to see what we’re made of.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to be better. Come hell or high water, we’ll figure this out. … We’re going to win the moment when it matters, and I’m very confident about that.”
Both teams will look to avenge losses in the semifinals of last season’s Big East tournament, when the Friars lost to Creighton and the Huskies were ousted by Villanova.
UConn and Providence split a pair of games this season, as each team won on its home floor.
–Field Level Media