NCAA Men's Basketball

No. 24 UConn taking its 'fight' up against Xavier

For the second time in nine days, Xavier and No. 24 UConn will battle on the Big East hardwood, this time at Storrs, Conn., on Saturday afternoon.

The two teams are trending in opposite directions, but both still have major goals within the conference.

With two weeks remaining in the Big East regular-season, Connecticut (18-7, 9-5 Big East) is still in the mix for the regular-season conference title. The Huskies have won two in a row, as well as three out of four, and are three games behind league-leading Providence in the loss column.

Xavier (17-8, 7-7) is looking for a top-five finish in the conference race and a first-round bye in the Big East tournament.

The Musketeers, who have lost five of their last 10 games, continue to look for consistency.

"I tell our team all the time, you can't get too high or too low," Xavier head coach Travis Steele said. "Just continue to play good quality basketball at both ends of the floor."

Xavier, which fell out of the top 25 after being ranked for nine consecutive weeks, snapped a two-game losing streak by defeating the Huskies 74-68 at Cincinnati last week.

Strong play from post players Jack Nunge and Zach Freemantle helped the Musketeers put away the Huskies. Nunge scored 22 points and added nine rebounds, while Freemantle contributed 12 points and nine rebounds of his own.

Three UConn players scored in double figures in the losing effort. RJ Cole poured in 22 points, Tyrese Martin scored 18 points and Adama Sonogo added 11 points. Controlling the boards and winning the turnover battle was pivotal in Xavier's win.

"I think UConn's one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and just for us to get them 35-31 on the glass, I knew we would have a shot," Steele said.

UConn head coach Dan Hurley, who was called for a technical foul late in the Xavier game, was upset with the officiating throughout the contest. Hurley referred to first-half calls that got his team in foul trouble as "brutal."

"When we're not playing well, that tends to get directed at the officials out of frustration, which then creates the scene, which I desperately would like to avoid," the feisty Huskies head coach said, according to the Stamford Advocate. "But really, you feel like you're fighting for your life, it's fight or flight, and I fight my ass off."

Following its loss at Xavier, UConn used its rebounding strength to put together back-to-back wins leading up to Saturday's rematch.

The Huskies went on the road and used a plus-11 rebounding margin to hold off St. John's 63-60 on Sunday. Then in the opener of a three-game homestand, Sonogo's 20-point,16-rebound effort powered the Huskies to a 70-65 win against Seton Hall on Wednesday.

Xavier ran into a buzzsaw against St. John's on Wednesday. The Red Storm handed the Musketeers their worst home loss of the season, an 86-73 drubbing. It was the most points Xavier has allowed this season.

The Musketeers mentality is to forward not back. "Next game up," Steele said. "Every team in this league is good and we have a great opportunity on Saturday at UConn."

Connecticut is 11-2 at home this season while Xavier is 4-3 on the road.

--Field Level Media

Updated February 17, 2022