Jim Calhoun became the seventh member of the 800-win club and guard A.J. Price had a career night as No. 2 UConn outlasted No. 10 Marquette 93-82.
Jerel McNeal turned in a game changing performance with 26 points to lead Marquette, but was out shadowed by UConn’s A.J. Price, who had a career high 36 points in helping his coach get the historic win.
UConn, (26-2, 14-2) came in with a 12-game road winning streak but Marquette,(23-5, 12-3) had won 16 in a row at home, the Huskies came into this game as a surprising one point underdog.
It was a classic backcourt vs. front-court matchup between two up-tempo teams ranked in the top 10, but nobody expected UConn to dominate the guard matchups.
Marquette was dealt an unsettling blow when all-everything guard Dominic James would go down early with a foot injury. James would play less than four minutes and it was revealed at the half that he had suffered a broken bone in his foot. Later it was announced that he would undergo season-ending surgery.
McNeal would have no trouble picking up the slack and providing excitement, he just couldn’t keep up with A.J. Price. The two would give fans a classic back and forth dual that provided plenty of thrills and momentum swinging shots.
Every time McNeal would hit a big shot, Price would hit a bigger one.
Price would both open and close the game for the Huskies. He scored their first basket, and iced the game with a three pointer with 1:13 left and two free throws with less than a minute remaining. He finished with 36 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists.
The game started at a frenzied pace and featured several momentum shifts. UConn would open a seven point lead midway into the first half, but McNeal and the Golden Eagles would reel them back in with three point shots.
At 8:41 left in the half, Marquette would go on a run to lead the game 28-22 and Jim Calhoun would be forced to take a time out to rally his team.
Whatever he told the Huskies during that time-out worked to perfection as Stanley Robinson hit a three, and Price hit another to tie the game in a thirty two second span. Connecticut would turn the swing into a 16-0 run before the Golden Eagles and McNeal would claw their way back to make it a six point game at the end of the half, 43-37.
As the second half began, Connecticut predictably went to their inside game with Hasheem Thabeet and Stanley Robinson. After all, Thabeet had a seven-inch height advantage on the tallest Marquette defender.
What was more surprising was Robinson’s inside presence as Jeff Adrien was having an off-night and only contributed two points and four rebounds. Robinson had his best game of the year picking up the slack and finishing with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
He was having no trouble getting to the rim and would scream at the top of his lungs while finishing his dunks.
Thabeet would pour in nine of his 14 points in the second half; he also finished with 15 rebounds. Price would continue his dominance as well, at one point hitting back to back three pointers and a jump shot in three straight possessions to open an eleven point lead.
Marquette would rally again however, at one point going on an 11-0 run to take the lead behind two three-pointers by James’s replacement, Maurice Acker. It didn’t last long and UConn returned the favor by going on its own 11 point run fueled by two three-point plays by Robinson.
The Golden Eagles had too much fight left in them however, and would make another run behind a thrilling McNeal jumper that sent the crowd into a frenzy and cut the lead to three with 2:58 left.
Marquette couldn’t sustain the momentum as Jeff Adrien added his only two points at the free-throw line after a McNeal foul that put UConn up by five. A.J. Price would seal the deal with a three-pointer, his eighth of the game, and add two closing free throw shots to give Coach Calhoun his 800th victory.
After the game, Calhoun was asked what it meant to him to reach 800 wins. He responded by referring to the list of coaches with 800 or more wins and recounting something his father had said to him when he was young. “He said ‘you will always be judged by the company you keep.'” “I looked around at that list and I am really happy to be in that company.”
Later in the press conference Jim Calhoun explained that when he got home his wife would have a cake waiting for him to celebrate his special win. With his 800th win and his team playing well going into the tournament, he can have his cake and eat it, too.
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