I’m a believer: Huskies Win At Marquette, 76-68

Okay, now I’ve officially cursed the Huskies — I’m on the bandwagon.

The UConn Huskies defeated Marquette on the road last night, winning by a final score of 76-68.

The #5 Huskies improved to 17-2 overall and 5-2 in the Big East, good for third place.

UConn trailed early with Marquette hitting everything in sight, but pulled ahead the half with a 38-31 lead.

Seeming like they were going to put the game away, the Huskies instead reverted to last year’s script — for a while.  Trail early, come back to take the lead, let the opponents pull way ahead, catch up, then lose.  True to form, the Huskies started slowly in the second half, allowing Marquette to catch up and jump out to leads of 56-51 and 58-53.  It seemed as if the Golden Eagles would pull away.  But this year’s Huskies responded with a 13-0 lead, all but putting the game away at 68-60 with a couple of minutes remaining.

Jeremy Lamb led all scorers with 24 points, offsetting yet another poor shooting performance by Kemba Walker, who finished 5-16 overall and 0-5 from beyond the arc, for 14 points.  But his double-clutching shot with 2:26 remaining put the Huskies up 68-60, and he was fouled, but missed the free throw.

Alex Oriakhi had another poor game in a very up-and-down stretch of games, scoring only 6 points to go along with 2 rebounds in 21 minutes.  He easily could have been the goat of this game, had the Huskies not won.  But Charles Okwandu came off the bench to spark the Huskies with 10 rebounds, despite scoring only 2 points on 1-6 shooting.

Roscoe Smith had another solid performance, scoring 11 points and pulling down 8 boards.

Shabazz Napier was the other Husky in double figures with 11, hitting some key free throws to ice the game.

My Take on the Game:

This was a game that last year’s team would have (and did) lose.  But this year’s team plays smarter, more team oriented ball.  Case in point: with under a minute remaining, the Huskies had a steal and a two on one fast break.  Last year’s team would have thrown a lob, and it would have been 50-50 whether it resulted in a spectacular dunk or a turnover.  This year’s team wisely pulled the ball out and ran down the clock.

Kemba Walker continues to struggle, and it seems that he continues to shoot no matter how poorly he’s shooting.  I know that great shooters are not supposed to have consciences, but sometimes he needs to go more with the hot hand.  Lately, that hot hand has been Jeremy Lamb, who exploded last night for 24 points.  He is really coming on, which bodes well for the Huskies.  If Walker regains his early season form, a scoring trio of Walker, Lamb and Smith will be difficult to stop.

This team continues to far exceed my expectations.  Last year, when everyone had UConn in the preseason Top 10, I said they would finish around 18-16, and I was right.  This year, with all of the personnel losses and a mostly unvaunted freshman class coming in, I thought they would struggle.  I was particularly concerned about this stretch of games, which I’ve stated repeatedly could result in 5 straight losses.  The Huskies have showed a lot of fortitude, winning the first three games of that stretch — winning last night on the road over a tough opponent, even on a night when Walker and Oriakhi didn’t play well.

I still worry about the youth of this team, but they are really playing well.  I’d still like to see Tyler Olander step into the power forward spot, I’d still like to see more consistency, especially from Oriakhi, and I worry about a league in which 18-0 Syracuse proceeds to lose 3 straight — 2 at home, including getting absolutely blown out by Seton Hall last night — and in which chronically underachieving Notre Dame takes down invincible Pitt on the road.  The Huskies next three games, in fact, are home against Louisville and Syracuse, then on the road against that same Seton Hall team.


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