The UConn-St John’s matchup this evening pits two of the Big East Conferences hottest teams with the both squads sitting only a game and a half out of first place. UConn (15-5, 5-3), currently in seventh place in the conference, has won three straight, including back to back overtime wins over USF and Providence while the ninth place Red Storm (14-8, 6-4) have won five of their last six. With a post reason ban in place for Kevin Olllie’s Huskies the regular season is the playoffs for UConn with the conference crown this year’s prize with the Huskies hoping to play spoiler to some bubble teams along the way.
“That’s the goal first and foremost of any season”, said Ollie, “Is to win that conference championship.”
UConn sophomore guard Ryan Boatright spoke to the team’s success this season and the looming post season ban.
“It’s definitely frustrating”, said Boatright, “Especially when you work hard every day and put the work in that we put in and see other teams not doing as well as you getting a chance to go the tournament. It’s frustrating, but we knew going into the season that we weren’t going to (play in the tournament).”
Including tonight’s game at Madison Square Garden, the Huskies have 10 games remaining before the season wraps up with Providence at Gampel Pavilion on March 9. Along the way the Huskies will face Cincinnati (18-4, 6-3) twice, Syracuse (19-2, 7-2) and Georgetown (16-4, 6-3) in their quest capture their first Big East Regular Season Championship since 2006.
Said Ollie, “It will be the last time we go into Madison Square Garden this year with the ban on the tournament so it’s gonna be a special game. Hopefully the kids will come out and respect the game, which I think they are. Hopefully we can come out with a victory and have a nice trip back to Storrs.”
A victory tonight coupled with favorable outcomes from some key conference games this week could significantly move the Huskies up the ladder in with a showdown against Syracuse at the XL Center in Hartford on the docket next Wednesday.
Tonight’s game will be the second and last time the Huskies will play at the ‘Garden’ this season. UConn dropped a 69-65 decision to North Carolina State on December 4. The so-called Mecca of college basketball hosts the Big East Tournament and UConn's post season ban also includes the conference tournament.
Junior guard Shabazz Napier was named Big East Player of the Week for the second time this season…Napier led UConn to overtime wins over USF and Providence despite still battling a sore shoulder. Said Napier of the left shoulder contusion, “It’s still hard for me to sleep. Wake up in the middle of the night to change positions because it gets aching here and there”…UConn and St John’s are two of the worst rebounding teams in the conference both at minus four plus per game…UConn continues the two game road trip Sunday in Newark with a noon time matchup against Seton Hall.