Before the 2022-2023 Big East men’s basketball season started, UConn’s rivalry with Creighton University was already widely covered. To add fuel to a fiery rivalry that had gripped the attention of many Big East fans, the Bluejays had swept the season series against the Huskies and with lofty expectations for Creighton heading into the season, they were ready to replicate their previous season’s success against UConn.
They’d get that opportunity in a cold matchup in Storrs on Jan. 7. While the Bluejays hadn’t quite met early expectations of the team up until that point at a 9-7 record, they were ready to get a reinvigorating victory against a tough UConn squad with just two losses at the time, especially Ryan Kalkbrenner. The Bluejays center felt he was snubbed for the Big East Player of the Year award by voters and with the perfect chance to prove his doubters wrong against Huskies center Adama Sanogo, this was the opportunity to do so.
Unfortunately for Kalkbrenner, Sanogo proceeded to show why voters proclaimed him as the top player in the Big East, dropping 26 points and nine rebounds compared to just nine points and four rebounds from Creighton’s star big man. Most importantly, it resulted in a 69-60 win for UConn and a huge momentum shifter in the rivalry between both of these programs.
And now, on Feb. 11, UConn has a chance for another opportunity to take a win with the stakes raised even higher. They’re now in Omaha, Nebraska, hundreds of miles from the friendly confines of Gampel Pavilion where they grabbed their first win of 2023. After a rough patch in their season that saw them lose three straight Big East games including a double-digit loss to St. John’s at home, the Huskies look to have regained their mojo with three straight wins. Now, they’ll have to battle for their fourth straight win in one of the harshest road environments in the Big East, the CHI Health Center.
There’s plenty of things to look at for UConn ahead of this matchup. They’re fresh off an impressive blowout win at the XL Center against No. 10 Marquette. There’s very few things that can top a victory like that, but with the rivalry between both of these teams, a UConn win in a tough road environment in the home stretch of their season may just do the trick.
However, as I’ve stated many times in this article, it’s going to be incredibly hard, especially with how well Creighton has looked since their loss at Gampel Pavilion. They’ve lost just one game since Jan. 7 and even then, it was just a three-point loss to the Xavier Musketeers at the Cintas Center. Not an easy victory for any team in the Big East. Since that loss to Xavier, they’ve won a staggering seven straight games, including an 84-67 revenge win at Creighton’s house.
Since his poor performance against UConn, Kalkbrenner has played well, averaging 15.6 over his last eight games. That’s not great news if you’re UConn, yet at the same time, these are exactly the battles that you’ve signed up for when playing in the Big East. You’re going to have to play against talented guards like Trey Alexander, who’s coming off a 27-point performance against Villanova just two games ago. You’ll have to battle for control of the game against other talented guards like Baylor Scheierman, who’s fresh off a 19-point performance against Seton Hall at the Prudential Center. However, it’s another test for UConn to play them at their house when they’ve won seven straight with this level of momentum.
It’s going to take a whole new level of effort for UConn in this one, especially on the defensive end from players like Andre Jackson and Tristen Newton to stop the aggressive play of Creighton’s guards. The battle of big men is certainly going to be excellent and Sanogo will have to be playing at his best on both sides of the court for UConn to even have a chance to win.
One thing is for certain. Get your popcorn ready. It’s going to be a show.