Unbeaten and second-ranked UConn will face one of its toughest tests of the season when it travels to Cincinnati for a Big East Conference game against No. 22 Xavier on Saturday afternoon.
The Huskies (14-0, 3-0 Big East) fought off a challenge from Villanova on Wednesday and remained perfect with a 74-66 win in Hartford, Conn.
Jordan Hawkins scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the first half and finished with seven assists to lead the Huskies to the win.
“I have always been confident in my game,” Hawkins said postgame. “It’s just been hard work. These tough games have been boosting our confidence, it’s hard work. And that’s all you need to build your confidence.”
UConn has been tested in its last two games, coming from seven points down with under 12 minutes remaining to defeat Georgetown and erasing an early second-half hole against Villanova. Both of those victories came on the Huskies’ home court.
On Saturday in Cincinnati, UConn not only will be battling an Xavier team on a seven-game win streak but one of the loudest crowds in the Big East.
“This is more of a reality of what conference play type of games are all about,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said after the Wednesday win. “I think we got (the lead) to 10. We had opportunities to walk away with a double-figure win, but we didn’t defensive rebound on some key stops that turned into points for them.”
Xavier (11-3, 3-0) enters the showdown after withstanding a late St. John’s rally for an 84-79 win on Wednesday in New York. Jack Nunge paced the Musketeers with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
“I definitely think UConn, if they’re not the best team in America, they’re right there on that top line,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. “It’s great for our conference that we have a team as powerful as them. They’ve not lost. We would have to play a great game on Saturday to have a chance to beat them.”
After trading baskets in the game’s opening minutes, Xavier used a 16-0 run to erase a one-point St. John’s lead, the Red Storm’s only advantage of the game. However, the hosts made it a tight game in the end.
“We held on for dear life,” Miller said. “St. John’s deserves a lot of credit. Unless you’re in the game, you can’t simulate the pace and the pressure that they put on you for 40 minutes.”
Souley Boum had another strong game for the Musketeers, scoring 17 points, handing out six assists and grabbing six rebounds. Boum committed just two turnovers in 40 minutes.
“It’s hard to do that against St. John’s,” Miller said. “We trusted him.”
Xavier held a 48-37 halftime edge before St. John’s made it close in the final three minutes.
“We’re not 16 points better than St. John’s on the road. I thought they made a great comeback,” Miller said. “At the end of the day in conference play to be able to go on the road and win, that’s really the name of the game for everybody.”
–Field Level Media