James Bouknight returned for a UConn win over PC (Photo by David Butler/USA Today)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
It’s taken a good long while but the Connecticut Huskies are finally whole, healthy and looking good again in their return season in the Big East.
UConn built on an impressive win at Xavier over the weekend with a dominating, 73-61, victory over Providence Tuesday night. The Huskies welcomed star guard James Bouknight back from an elbow injury that cost him eight games and he helped his squad build leads of as many as 18 points in the second half. Bouknight scored 18 points, while URI transfer Tyrese Martin scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half.
UConn dominated the Friars off the boards (42-32), shot an impressive 52 percent in the second half and finished with 46 points in the paint. The Huskies improved to 10-5 overall, 7-5 in the Big East and evened a loss at PC last week.
Providence (11-11, 7-9) continued its season-long inconsistent play. After two excellent defensive outings in a row, the Friars owned major issues defending Martin, Bouknight and R.J. Cole. On offense, an awful 1-of-9 shooting start to the second half rolled out a red carpet for UConn.
“You put a talent on the floor like that it’s going to give the other guys confidence,” PC coach Ed Cooley said of Bouknight. “His talent level is unquestioned. It was a totally different team than we played in Providence.”
The Friars are looking like a team that will have to shine in the Big East Tournament in order to keep any NCAA tourney hopes alive. David Duke was hounded to a 3-of-16 shooting night and finished with 11 points. Nate Watson had just six. Freshman Alyn Breed led the way with 14 points.
“The game was won in the trenches,” Cooley said, “and we didn’t show up there. It’s been our Achilles heel all year, guarding the ball and offensive rebound.”
UConn coach Dan Hurley praised Bouknight’s effort, saying “I’m a better coach now. My job has gotten easier. This is what we envisioned this year, in Year Three. It stinks that college basketball and our fans had to miss him for 40 days.”
The Friars scored the game’s first four points but once UConn settled in and scored the next 11, the home team never lost the lead again. PC couldn’t slow the combination of Martin and Bouknight in the opening half as they combined for 28 points.
Providence tied the game at 16-16 and 19-19 but UConn spurted again behind Martin. His fastbreak score and 3-pointer gave him 16 points in the opening half and his team a 35-27 lead. UConn led at the break, 37-31.
The Friars were fortunate to be so close at the break as both Duke and Watson were slowed by two fouls apiece. Duke was just 1-of-8 in the half, while Watson played only nine minutes.
The start of the second half spelled doom for the Friars. PC’s Duke drained a 3-pointer to open the scoring for a 37-34 score but UConn ripped off a 14-2 run for a 51-36 lead. Martin didn’t score in the run, which points to how deep the Huskie attack was on this night.
PC closed to 51-41 with 12:53 left but UConn answered with eight in a row as Tyler Polley drained a trey and Josh Carlton scored inside. The Huskies remained ahead by double digits the rest of the way.
Alyn Breed – 14 points
Tyrese Martin – 18 points, 16 in first half
James Bouknight – 18 points
Ed Cooley Post-Game Remarks
“Giving up that many offensive rebounds and not keeping them out of the paint, that was our kryptonite.”
“This was a backyard brawl, this was a street fight. And they were victorious in the street fight. It wasn’t an X-and-O. They were just physically better than us today.”