No. 8 UConn 79, Fairfield 71

Connecticut sent coach Jim Calhoun into a forced holiday
vacation on a five-game winning streak – and the Huskies didn’t
make it easy.

Shabazz Napier scored 24 points to lead No. 8 UConn over
in-state rival Fairfield 79-71 on Thursday night, the final game
before Calhoun serves a three-game suspension for NCAA recruiting
violations.

Jeremy Lamb added 18 points and freshman center Andre Drummond
had 16 points, nine rebounds, four steals and two blocks for the
Huskies (10-1), who won their 41st consecutive non-conference
game.

Rakim Sanders had 20 points, Sean Crawford 14 and Derek Needham
12 for Fairfield (7-5), which cut a 22-point second-half deficit to
three with 2:23 left before bowing to the Huskies.

”Obviously it wasn’t the best way, especially in the second
half, to leave,” Calhoun said. ”But I have faith in (assistant
coach) George (Blaney) and our staff and they’ll be just
fine.”

Connecticut is now 118-4 against New England teams outside the
Big East, and has won 65 consecutive games against in-state
competition.

Calhoun will return to the sideline Jan. 7 at Rutgers after he
sits out three conference games.

”We’re going to miss coach dearly, of course,” said Drummond,
who hit eight of his 10 shots. ”He’s our biggest supporter. But
coach Blaney, he’s a good coach as well. I think we’ll be fine as a
team.”

Connecticut led 57-35 and looked to be running away with the
game early in the second half.

But a dunk by Ryan Olander and a 3-pointer by Crawford sparked a
Fairfield run that also included a big block by Olander on a dunk
attempt by his brother, UConn’s Tyler Olander.

”It was just kind of set up where we were going to meet at the
rim and one of us was going to win,” Ryan Olander said. ”And I
didn’t want to lose that one, especially that one.”

A 3-pointer by Rakim Sanders cut the lead to 65-59 with under 6
minutes to play and the Stags continued to chip away.

Another 3-pointer by Crawford cut the lead to five – 72-67 –
with just over 3 minutes to play, and a layup by Sanders made it
72-69. He had a chance to bring the Stags within two but missed the
front end of a 1-and-1, and Ryan Boatright’s 3-pointer at the other
end extended the lead to 75-69.

”We just let down,” said Lamb. ”They hit a couple 3s and
after that we gave them some confidence. They had confidence they
could hit 3s and they kept on doing that.”

Calhoun liked the way his team played for the first 20 minutes.
Napier hit his first five shots and had 14 points midway through
the first half.

Fairfield’s Derek Needham hit his first three, all from 3-point
range, to keep the Stags close. Fairfield trailed just 14-13 before
UConn went on an 11-2 run led by Napier, who had nine of those
points.

A pair of 3-pointers from Lamb made it 40-24 Huskies. An
alley-oop from Napier to Drummond, followed by Drummond’s third
steal and dunk of the game gave UConn a 46-26 halftime lead.

Ryan Olander finished with eight points and eight rebounds. His
brother Tyler had just two points for UConn. The brothers played
together at E.O. Smith High School, which is adjacent to the UConn
campus in Storrs.

The Olander family sat in the stands wearing T-shirts that read
””FairConn” on the front, with the family name on the back and
the words ”Either Way We Win.”

Fairfield also came into the game on a four-game winning streak,
and trailed for just a minute and a half during those games. But
the Stags never led in this one.

”I think that college basketball is getting to the point where
mid-majors are beating Big East teams,” said Fairfield coach
Sydney Johnson. ”I think these guys know that. We’re pretty
disappointed and if we weren’t, I’d worry about us going into
league play.”

Connecticut’s last non-conference loss was to Indiana on Jan.
20, 2007. UConn has not lost to another team from Connecticut since
Calhoun’s first season as coach in 1986, a 49-48 loss to
Hartford.

Fairfield had held opponents under 60 points six times this
season, including their last three games.

Blaney, a former head coach at Holy Cross and Seton Hall, will
run the team during games at South Florida, at home against St.
John’s and at Seton Hall. Calhoun is scheduled to return on Jan. 7
when the Huskies face Rutgers.

”We’re going to go out there and get those three games for
him,” said Boatright.

UConn plays just one other non-conference game this season, on
Jan. 21 at Tennessee.

The Huskies have now won 19 straight against Fairfield and lead
the overall series 29-5.