|ESPN labeled their slew of games this week as “Judgment Week.” The name could not be more fitting for the Connecticut–West Virginia matchup on Monday night as Selection Sunday nears.
Connecticut is hanging on for dear life after an up-and-down season that saw a shocking marquee win over No. 3 Villanova on the road as well as terrible losses to Providence and Cincinnati twice.
With a chance of still receiving an at-large tournament bid, the first order of business for the Huskies was to take care of No. 8 West Virginia 73–62 at the XL Center in Hartford to complete a three-game winning streak on Monday. Check.
After the gutsy win, UConn coach Jim Calhoun said, “I think they got to the point against Cincinnati that we couldn’t play any worse and then I said they embarrassed us only because they’re such good kids and they needed to do more.”
“And you know, the last few games, the biggest thing we’ve done, we’ve done more—loose balls, rebound the heck out of the basketball. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Although UConn maintained control for most of the game, West Virginia kept it close throughout and even looked like they might squash UConn’s hopes early on after a 5–0 lead in the first minute.
Calhoun was furious at the lack of effort from his team and received a tactical technical foul from official Michael Stephens in order to fire up and inspire his team to play harder. The strategy worked as UConn went on a 14–1 run.
The Huskies used their size and length to control the boards with a +10 rebounding edge in the first half, including +6 on the offensive boards. They never trailed again in the game and led by as many as 15 points in the half before settling for a 37–28 halftime lead.
The Mountaineers made a game of it in the second half by cutting the deficit to one with 8:49 remaining on a Devin Ebanks putback of his own missed shot. Calhoun called a 30-second timeout immediately after the basket.
For the Huskies, all they needed were some tough words from their coach to put the game away. The Mountaineers could get no closer after the timeout as they watched UConn extend the lead.
Many of the Mountaineers’ problems stemmed from the foul line as they only made 12 of 23. In a foul-plagued game with whistle-happy referees, 45 total fouls were called including 28 in the second half. Three players fouled out of the game.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was so upset over the officiating that he received two technical fouls in a matter of seconds after barking heatedly at official Mike Stuart with 42 seconds left in the game.
NYC point guard Kemba Walker made 3 of 4 free throws to ice the game and finished with 21 points, including 14 of 17 from the free throw line, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. It was his fifth consecutive game scoring in double figures.
When ESPN asked Calhoun after the game who the difference maker was, Calhoun responded, “Kemba, certainly.” Stanley Robinson also contributed 15 points and 13 rebounds.
According to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, UConn has played themselves into the tournament with the victory.
“I think you’d have to put UConn in the field if we were doing a new bracket right now. UConn has been confounding all season long and it looks like they’re gonna confound us more by making the tournament,” he commented upon the conclusion of the game.