West Virginia-UConn Preview
Connecticut never lost three straight last season en route to winning the national championship.
The 17th-ranked Huskies will try to avoid that fate Monday night in Hartford against West Virginia, which features Big East leading scorer and rebounder Kevin Jones.
Connecticut (12-3, 2-2) welcomed back Jim Calhoun on Saturday after the coach finished serving a three-game suspension for failing to create an atmosphere of compliance within the program. His presence apparently didn't help in the Huskies' second straight loss in New Jersey, a 67-60 defeat at Rutgers.
"We weren't very well-prepared to play basketball the last two games," Calhoun said. "I came back for two, three days and it hasn't made any difference. I am incredibly disappointed in how we're playing right now. We're not in sync right now."
The Huskies' last three-game slide came during a four-game skid Feb. 28-March 9, 2010. UConn dropped nine spots in this week's Top 25.
Star swingman Jeremy Lamb fouled out with a season-low eight points Saturday, snapping a 25-game run of reaching double digits which started in last year's conference tournament.
Lamb is fourth in the Big East with his 18.2 scoring average, with two Mountaineers ranking above him. One of them is Jones, who averages 19.8 points and 11.9 rebounds.
Jones posted his Big East-leading 11th double-double Saturday with 22 points and 16 boards in a 74-62 home victory over then-No. 9 Georgetown. His 54.8 field-goal percentage is second best in the conference.
"KJ is special," coach Bob Huggins said. "People need to enjoy watching him because it has been a long, long time since we have had a guy put up the numbers like he is putting up."
West Virginia (12-4, 3-1) is 0-8 all-time at Connecticut, losing by an average of 15.0 points. Huggins believes this matchup will be particularly challenging, even more so than an 83-81 overtime loss Dec. 23 to then-No. 6 Baylor - one of three remaining unbeaten teams nationally.
"They kept hearing (about) Baylor's length and Baylor's size and Baylor this and Baylor that and I said, 'Well, guys this isn't Connecticut now,'" Huggins said. "They're long but they're not 260 pounds. Connecticut has size and girth."
Jones had 15 points and 10 rebounds in last season's 65-56 home win over UConn. That game may not be a good indicator of what to expect Monday since each team lost its leading scorer from 2010-11 - the Mountaineers' Casey Mitchell and the Huskies' Kemba Walker.
Shabazz Napier, averaging 14.7 points, has replaced Walker at point guard.
Napier, a sophomore, will face a difficult assignment against a surging Truck Bryant. West Virginia's senior guard is averaging 18.4 points for the conference's third-best mark, and his scoring average in Big East games is 24.8.
"He doesn't surprise me at all," Jones said. "He's just playing at such a high level now. He's just got that confidence going."
Bryant had 19 of his 25 points Saturday after halftime. He's never had much success against UConn, however, averaging 9.0 points on 26.9 percent shooting in three meetings.
The Huskies are 9-0 this season at home, where they are shooting a Big East-leading 42.0 percent on 3-pointers. Napier has made 16 of 32 3s at home.