After being held out of the starting lineup for the first time this season, a struggling Omar Calhoun responded with a solid performance. Connecticut also got a stronger effort off the bench from fellow sophomore Phillip Nolan.
The 17th-ranked Huskies hope to see similar showings from Calhoun and Nolan in their American Athletic Conference debut Tuesday night in Houston.
After averaging 15.0 points in his first three starts, Calhoun scored 5.6 per game and shot 25.0 percent over the next eight and was sent to the bench for Saturday's game against Eastern Washington in Bridgeport, Conn. The guard bounced back with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting in an 82-65 win.
"I think Omar responded well," said guard Shabazz Napier, who had a team-best 15 points. "I was happy to see ... Omar scoring because Omar was in a little slump."
Nolan had a career-best 11 points and a season-high six rebounds in his second game off the bench. He's totaled 19 points and 11 boards in those contests after averaging 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in his 11 starts at forward.
"Phil was great. He responded the right way. That's what I like," coach Kevin Ollie said. "He was out of the starting lineup but he had his career high. It's not about who is starting. It's about who's taking care of their minutes."
The Huskies (11-1) will try to take their first step toward an AAC title against Houston (8-5). Connecticut will likely have to contend with defending national champion Louisville, Memphis and possibly Cincinnati in the new conference. UConn was picked to finish behind the favorite Cardinals in the preseason coaches' poll.
Houston, projected to finish seventh, has dropped five of eight since a 5-0 start and needed TaShawn Thomas' help for a 54-52 win over Rice on Dec. 21 at the Toyota Center. The conference's third-leading scorer (17.4 points per game) had six of his team's final nine points in the last 2:12.
Thomas, second in the AAC with 9.3 rebounds per contests, had 16 points and 10 boards for his conference-best sixth double-double. The junior forward will next try to lead the Cougars to a fourth win over a ranked opponent in six tries.
Houston, however, has faced one Top 25 team in the past two seasons, falling 81-74 at No. 21 Memphis on Feb. 20. Thomas had 20 points in that game
"Everybody is looking forward to this game since we found out we were going to a new conference," he said. "Coming back (from the break), we have to be ready."
The Cougars face Connecticut for the third time in program history and dropped to 0-2 in the series with a 72-60 road loss Nov. 30, 2000. The Huskies won 82-76 in their only visit to Houston on Dec. 30, 1999, and have been a ranked team in all three matchups.