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
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
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
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
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
The sophomore guard was averaging 7.7 points and 4.0 rebounds in
his first 22 contests this season.