STORRS – Hartford’s battleground, otherwise known as the XL Center, was once again packed for a blockbuster matchup between the University of Connecticut and Marquette University Golden Eagles. When the 6:30 p.m. tipoff arrived, every seat was filled for some more tough Big East basketball. No. 21 looking for a big win against No. 10. Surely, this would be a “get your popcorn ready” type of matchup.
And for the first half, it certainly was… just not for Marquette. After UConn had expressed their excitement for this matchup after practice at the XL Center on Monday, they’d execute on all levels and hit shot after shot. Highlighted by an electric alley-oop dunk from Tristen Newton to Andre Jackson, the Huskies took off and never looked back while also holding the Golden Eagles to just 29 points on 36% shooting. Golden Eagles coach Shaka Smart had no reason to be happy, especially with the team’s defense which allowed the Huskies to get ideal shots. It was going to take a huge turnaround from Marquette in the second half to take back control in this one.
On the contrary, coach Dan Hurley couldn’t have been happier. To put a cherry on top of a fantastic performance for UConn in the first half, with just a few seconds left, UConn guard Naheim Alleyne drove down the court and hit an incredible shot from just beyond the half-court line to give UConn a 46-29 lead going into the second half. Talk about an ideal first half for the Huskies.
That incredible offense that took advantage of a struggling Marquette defense showed up once again in the second half as players like Newton shined on both the offensive and defensive end. Newton in particular has continued to trend upward as he’s averaged 17.75 over his last four performances while continuing to showcase some solid defense. His playmaking too has been incredible with his teammate Alleyne saying he was “lookin’” like Nika Mühl out there.” When he’s clicking, it’s been huge for a UConn team that’s aimed to get some momentum going ahead of Big East action. Tonight was perhaps the epitome of an incredible stretch for Newton as he recorded his second triple double of the season with 12 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. He’s the only player to record two in a single season.
Despite Marquette attempting to get back in the game as Tyler Kolek would drop 17 points, they weren’t able to hang with the Huskies as the team stayed aggressive throughout the entire contest and created mismatches against the Golden Eagles.
“In my opinion, they played the way they were playing when they were 14-0 and No. 2 in the country,” said Marquette coach Shaka Smart.
With the guard tandem of Hawkins and Newton clicking, UConn would continue to cruise to a 87-72 win over the Golden Eagles, a statement win for a team that’s won its last three games in a row. In the end, Marquette shot 44% from the field and were outrebounded by UConn 48-24. By controlling their possessions and playing some overall outstanding basketball, the Huskies showed that they’ve kicked their play back into gear and now, they’ve got perhaps an even more difficult matchup as they’ll head to Nebraska to take on Creighton University.