SMU-UConn Preview

Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown has successfully turned around an SMU program that is a virtual lock to make its first NCAA tournament appearance in 22 years.

The defending national champions, meanwhile, are in danger of joining some unwanted company.

The 21st-ranked Mustangs look to match a school record with an eighth consecutive road victory when they face Connecticut on Sunday in Hartford.

SMU (23-5, 14-2 American Athletic) felt snubbed after the selection committee passed it over despite a 23-win regular season in 2013-14. It has been determined not to let that happen again, winning 21 of 23 after a 66-57 victory at Memphis on Thursday.

The Mustangs, who have won five straight, haven’t reached the NCAAs since 1993 but are poised to do so in their third season under Brown.

"It’s great," said guard Nic Moore, who finished with 16 points and five assists. "We take it day by day and practice by practice and try to give it our all for the games."

SMU last won eight straight on the road in the ’55-56 season, though its seven consecutive road wins in conference play are a school record.

"I’m so proud of this team," said Brown, whose squad was the NIT runner-up last year. "We’ve handled adversity on the road. I’m hoping that’s an indication of us growing up a little bit."

The Mustangs are 4-0 against Connecticut (16-11, 9-6), including a 73-55 victory Feb. 14 behind 13 points apiece from Yanick Moreira, Sterling Brown and Markus Kennedy.

Ryan Boatright scored 19 in that one for the Huskies, who could become just the sixth team to miss the NCAA tournament after winning the title the previous year since the field expanded to 64 teams in ’85.

UConn has won two straight following back-to-back losses, beating Tulane 67-60 last Sunday and East Carolina 60-49 on Wednesday. Boatright had 16 points and freshman Daniel Hamilton added nine with a season-high 17 rebounds against the Pirates.

The Huskies trailed by nine at halftime but started the second half on a 14-2 run.

"We played UConn defense in the second half," coach Kevin Ollie said. "We held them to 16 points and 19 percent shooting, and Amida (Brimah) was great again. I think all of our guys locked in. Our guys really went out and challenged their shots."

Brimah finished with six blocks and ranks among the national leaders with 3.2 per game. He also had 12 points and is averaging 16.7 in his last three. The 7-footer scored 6.3 over his previous four, a stretch that ended with a six-point effort against SMU.

"He is huge and we need him to stay on the basketball court. We don’t need him to foul," Ollie said of Brimah, who had four fouls for the second time in three games. "He just does a wonderful job and he is an amazing shot blocker. He is just getting better and better."

The Huskies have held their last two opponents to a combined 34.9 percent shooting, and they’re hoping for a better effort this time around against the Mustangs.

SMU shot 48.1 percent in the first meeting and is hitting at a 48.7 clip on the season, tops in the AAC. It held UConn to 34.0 percent and also leads the conference in field-goal percentage defense at 37.9.

The Mustangs won their only road meeting with UConn 64-55 on Feb. 23 of last year, holding the Huskies to 29.6 percent from the field.