Men's College Basketball

Husky Defense Downs Bluejays 62-48

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UConn guard Cam Spencer scores a fast break layup during Wednesday’s game against Creighton at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. Photo by Steven Zarrella/Sportspage Magazine

When the No. 1 ranked UConn Huskies took the court against the Creighton Bluejays at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn., Wednesday night, they faced a team that is currently ranked 18 but has never beaten a No. 1 team in their history. The Blue Jays were 0-5 against No. 1 ranked teams heading into the game. After facing a formidable Husky defense Creighton lost by a score of 62-48 in front of 10,299, making them now 0-6 against top ranked teams.

The game began with Creighton guard Steven Ashworth making a jump shot and getting fouled by UConn guard Cam Spencer in the process. Ashworth made the free throw giving the Bluejays the 3-0 lead on the game’s first possession.

UConn responded with forward Alex Karaban attempting a three-pointer, but it fell short and hit the front rim. Husky forward Samson Johnson grabbed the rebound and dunked the put back to make it 3-2 in favor of the visiting team.

The game seesawed back and forth for a few minutes until Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner dunked with 17:38 left in the half and the Bluejays holding a 7-6 lead.

Neither team scored in the next 4:14, which was broken when Kalkbrenner scored on a layup with 13:24 remaining to give the Bluejays the 9-6 lead. However, UConn guard Tristen Newton hit a three-pointer for the 9-9 tie. That was broken by a three-pointer by Ashworth, but promptly answered by another Newton three-pointer and the game was tied 12-12 with 12:19 remaining until halftime.

Creighton Bluejays guard Baylor Scheierman shoots over the outstretched arms of UConn Husky forward Alex Karaban during Wednesday’s game at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. Photo by Steven Zarrella/Sportspage Magazine

Then UConn went on a tear. Bluejays guard Trey Alexander fouled Spencer, who made one of his two free throws. This was followed by a UConn run that they never looked back from. Spencer led the Huskies on a 14-2 run, scoring eight points himself during that span.

Alexander scored on a jumper with 7:25 left in the half to break the UConn run and make the score 23-16. This was followed by a three-pointer from Bluejays guard Francisco Farabello, which cut the deficit to four.

UConn’s defense kicked it up a notch after Farabello’s trey, while adding to their lead. Johnson dunked; Center Donovan Clingan made a layup, first points in his first game back after missing five games with a foot injury; and guards Stephon Castle and Hassan Diarra also scored. Diarra was fouled by Kalkenbrenner, and made the free shot. Alexander scored on a jump shot, the only Creighton points during the 9-2 run that ended the half.

Creighton failed to score in the last 3:54 of the half and found themselves trailing 32-21 at the break.

The Bluejay woes continued in the second half. Alexander scored a quick basket to begin the second half, but Creighton couldn’t find anything after that.

Creighton Bluejays guard Steven Ashworth is about to drive against UConn Husky forward Samson Johnson during Wednesday’s game at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. Photo by Steven Zarrella/Sportspage Magazine

Between missed shots, turnovers, shot clock violations and miscommunication, the Bluejays didn’t score for the next 5:59 in the game, while UConn went on a 9-0 run. Creighton only scored two points in the last 9:53 of play going back to the first half, until guard Baylor Scheierman made two free throws after getting fouled by Clingan. UConn led 41-25 with 13:38 remaining in the game.

After another Diarra layup, Kalkbrenner hit a three-pointer, which was Creighton’s first made field goal in the last 7:43. It was promptly answered by a three-pointer by Karaban, and then a dunk by Clingan with 10:57 remaining. This forced the Bluejays to call a timeout as the Husky lead grew to 20 points, 48-28.

Despite a twenty point deficit, the Bluejays fought back. Ashworth and Scheierman each scored multiple times, while the Creighton defense got tough and slowed down the Husky scoring machine. The 13-2 Bluejay run cut the deficit in half, and UConn led 56-46 with 2:32 left on the clock.

Now Creighton was playing UConn and the clock. The Bluejays still had fouls to give, while UConn was already in the bonus. Cam Spencer cut towards the basket on an inbounds play and converted a layup, much to the open consternation of the Bluejays who thought they would foul him on the inbounds pass instead.

Kalkbrenner scored with 1:05 left to bring the differential back to 10 points. Bluejay forward Mason Miller fouled Newton, who made both free throws, and then fouled Karaban, who also converted the free shots. The Bluejays would come no closer and the final score was 62-48 in favor of the top seeded Huskies.

UConn guard Tristen Newton throws up a short jumper while Creighton Bluejays defenders watch during Wednesday’s game at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. Photo by Steven Zarrella/Sportspage Magazine

UConn went 25-for-70 (35.7 percent) from the field; 5-for-19 (26.3 percent) from three-point range; and 7-10 (70.0 percent) in free throw shooting. They made seven turnovers which led to four Bluejay points. The Huskies out rebounded Creighton 21-6 and was able to turn that into a 19-5 advantage in second chance points. They also led 36-20 in points-in-the-paint.

“Just thrilled to get the win. It may be the most impressive one of the year. The question marks about this team and its ability to do the things that we aspire to do were answered tonight,” said UConn head coach Dan Hurley. “Tonight we cleaned up the fouling and we cleaned up the defensive rebounding.”

The Bluejays were 18-for-52 (34.6 percent) from the field; 6-for-26 (23.1 percent) from the three-point line; and a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line. They committed 14 turnovers which led to 15 UConn points.

“We weren’t very good. UConn had almost everything to do with that. They really knocked us out of our rhythm offensively. We couldn’t keep this team off the glass,” said Creighton head coach Greg McDermott.

The Huskies were led by 16 points from Tristen Newton, who also led the team with five assists. Cam Spencer and Alex Karaban each added 13 points. Karaban led the team in rebounding with seven.

“I thought Tristen was great today. He was engaged. When you get an engaged Tristen on what he can do defensively, things the he sees, he’s one of the top guards. He’s one of the best players in this league and he’s having a good a year as any guard in the country,” said Hurley.

“[Newton’s] got to stay connected. He’s got to stay engaged. He probably gets fouled more than the three free throws that he attempted, so he’s got to take a different approach with the officials,” Hurley added.

Creighton Bluejays guard Trey Alexander had three assists to lead his team during Wednesday’s game at Gampel Pavilion. Photo by Steven Zarrella/Sportspage Magazine

Creighton was led by 14 points from Steven Ashworth. Baylor Scheierman added 12 and Ryan Kalkbrenner muscled in 11 points. Kalkbrenner also led all rebounders with eight. Trey Alexander’s three assists was a high for the Bluejays.

“We had stretches where we played okay and stretches where our offense was anemic. That’s not going to win in this league,” said McDermott.

When asked about being the first game played as the No. 1 team in the country, Hurley said, “We can’t lose the next game after you’re ranked first. We all knew that coming in. The problem was we were playing one of the best teams in the country (Creighton).”

“But our mentality should be, when you’re No. 1 in the country, somebody should have to pry it out of our lifeless body and our dead hands. We should play so hard to keep this thing right now that somebody’s got to rip it out of our lifeless body,” he added.

McDermott knew it was going to be tough facing the No. 1 team and accentuated the positive when asked about it.

“It was a great crowd. A great college basketball environment. Obviously, UConn is ranked No. 1 in the country and everybody should be excited about that. Not that UConn needs a bigger target on their backs. I don’t think it matters what the ranking is next to their name because they’re a heck of a team. But they responded to that with a lot of maturity and the crowd certainly impacts the game, in this building especially,” said McDermott.

UConn (16-2 overall, 6-1 Big East) travels to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia for a 7 p.m. CT game against the Villanova Wildcats (11-6) on Saturday. Creighton (13-5 overall, 4-3 Big East) travels to the Seton Hall Pirates (13-5) for an 11 a.m. CT game, also on Saturday.

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