UConn Men's Basketball: Huskies win in thriller

Josh Katzowitz

Craig Austrie, a Stamford native, grew up watching the UConn men’s basketball team, and when he turned on the TV to see the Huskies play as a young man, he knew they’d be tough and more than likely to win.

For one of the first times in his career, he and his UConn teammates lived that existence on the basketball court Wednesday night.

Despite falling behind by 12 points with less than six minutes to play, the Huskies rode the finest offensive game of center Hasheem Thabeet’s career, the gutsy long-distance shooting of Jerome Dyson and a propensity to make their free throws to escape Fifth Third Arena with an 84-83 victory against the University of Cincinnati.

That’s the way Austrie remembered the Huskies playing, and coach Jim Calhoun was nearly as pleased.

“It’s clearly as good a win as we’ve had in quite some time,” said Calhoun, who got a 22-point performance from Thabeet, to match his career high. “We found something within ourselves.”

UConn found what it was looking for late in the game.

Losing 74-62, thanks in part to a technical foul called on Calhoun, UConn (13-5, 4-3 Big East), aided by back-to-back 3-pointers by Dyson and a tough full-court press, went on a 12-2 run to cut the lead to two.

Cincinnati sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn scored the final 3-pointer of his 34-point night to give the Bearcats (9-10, 4-3) an 80-74 lead, but from there, UConn owned the game.

“We felt we weren’t ever out of it,” Dyson said. “Coach told us it was still our game.”

Calhoun was right.

Lay-ups by Dyson, who finished with 20 points, and A.J. Price chopped the advantage to two. UConn, which shot 86.5 percent (32 of 37) from the foul line, got two free throws by Austrie to tie the game 80-80 and Jeff Adrien made two more to give the Huskies an 82-81 lead.

Then, things got crazy.

With the Huskies holding that one-point lead, Bearcats freshman Rashad Bishop made an off-balance runner in the lane to make it 83-82 with 9 seconds to go.

But Bishop committed a foolhardy foul on Price — in the backcourt before UConn even in-bounded the ball — and the junior guard swished his two free throws.

“When he got there and got close, I initiated the contact,” said Price, who finished with 13 points. “The ref almost had to call it. He was riding me the whole way.”

Dyson didn’t have a doubt Price would make both.

“Very, very confident,” Dyson said. “I didn’t even think anything about it. I knew he’d get on the line and make both of his free throws.”

On the other end of the court, Vaughn, obviously wanting to take the last shot, lost the ball while trying to penetrate, and kicked it to senior forward Marcus Sikes in the left corner.

Sikes missed, and the Huskies could finally celebrate.

“We’re young,” Price said, “and it’s the first time we’ve been in a hostile environment and come out with a win.”

Midway through the first half, it looked like Cincinnati would run away with the game.

After the Huskies built a 19-14 lead, they allowed the Bearcats to go on a 17-2 run to build a 10-point advantage.  Cincinnati forced 12 first-half turnovers — many of them in UConn’s backcourt — and the Bearcats made 47.2 percent of their field-goal attempts.      

At times late in the half, a disgruntled Calhoun turned his back on the court and looked into the crowd. UC fans responded by waving at him.

But after falling behind 31-21, the Huskies, on the strength of a 9-for-9 free-throw performance in the final 2:33 of the period, cut the lead to three before heading into halftime.

They also received help from Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin.

With the first-half foul differential 11-3 in UConn’s favor, and after a call from referee Ed Hightower that particularly steamed him — Thabeet possibly could have been whistled for traveling but instead, he made his layup and Bearcats point guard Jamual Warren was given the foul — Cronin received a technical.

Afterward, Calhoun praised Cronin as the Big East coach of the year while complimenting his team.

“No one has challenged us physically the way Cincinnati did,” Calhoun said.