Marquette-UConn Preview

While it needs help to bolster its conference title hopes,

Marquette still has a chance for its best Big East finish and a

coveted double bye into the tournament quarterfinals.

The 12th-ranked Golden Eagles will try to move a step closer to

achieving those goals during a visit to Connecticut on Saturday

afternoon.

Marquette (21-5, 10-3) is 2 1/2 games behind Syracuse with five

remaining, but the Golden Eagles are likely equally focused on the

teams below them in the standings.

They’re tied with Notre Dame for second, but only one game ahead

of Georgetown and South Florida. The top four teams get the double

bye, meaning it only takes three victories to claim the Big East

tournament title.

Marquette’s best Big East finish was a fourth-place showing in

its inaugural 2005-06 season, but that was three years before the

conference tournament expanded to include all 16 teams.

The Golden Eagles will try to help their chances of topping that

finish by sending Connecticut (16-9, 6-7) to its ninth loss in 13

games, but they could use a better start to this contest.

Marquette fell behind by 12 points in the first five minutes

against Cincinnati last Saturday before taking over by scoring 25

points off 14 turnovers en route to a 95-78 win.

Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder each scored 23 points for

Marquette, which also trailed by double digits in the first halves

of four other Big East games.

“Our defense does create offense for us when we’re flowing

pretty good,” coach Buzz Williams said. ”We can’t win any other

way than our defense helping our offense.”

The Golden Eagles will try to use that pressing defense against

a Huskies squad that’s struggled for consistent offensive

production throughout much of 2012. Before an 80-54 win over DePaul

on Wednesday, Connecticut was averaging 60.5 points on 40.4 percent

shooting over its 11 previous games. The Huskies, though, did play

well at No. 2 Syracuse last Saturday before the Orange pulled away

for an 85-67 win.

The Huskies had averaged 74.6 points while shooting 49.6 percent

during their 12-1 start.

“I thought (the win over DePaul) was a carryover of the effort

we gave at Syracuse,” said associate head coach George Blaney, who

improved to 2-2 in place of Jim Calhoun.

Calhoun will miss this game and Monday’s contest at Villanova as

he recovers from spinal stenosis, and UConn has had trouble with

Marquette during previous home matchups.

The Golden Eagles have won three of their four all-time visits

to Connecticut, including each of the past two. They needed

overtime to prevail 74-67 last season over the then-No. 14 Huskies,

and Johnson-Odom scored nine of his 17 points in the extra

period.

Connecticut, though, earned a 76-68 victory at the Bradley

Center on Jan. 25, 2011, as Jeremy Lamb scored 24 points. The

sophomore swingman is averaging a team-best 17.2 this season and

Shabazz Napier seems like he’s emerging from his recent shooting

struggles.

The sophomore guard has made 9 of 18 shots his last two games

after going 10 for 51 his previous five.

The Golden Eagles, meanwhile, might not have power forward

Davante Gardner for the fifth straight game because of a sprained

left knee. Vander Blue has tried to help make up for his absence by

averaging 14.5 points and 6.3 rebounds over the last four

games.

The sophomore guard was averaging 7.7 points and 4.0 rebounds in

his first 22 contests this season.