Connecticut has regrouped nicely from its first defeat to win three straight. However, UConn players believe the mental part of their collective game can use some fine-tuning.
The ninth-ranked Huskies look to improve in that area as they face Holy Cross on Sunday at the XL Center in Hartford.
After being upset 68-63 by Central Florida in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas on Nov. 25, UConn (8-1) recorded a two-point overtime win over then-No. 22 Florida State in the third-place game. The Huskies followed with double-digit victories over Arkansas and then-No. 25 Harvard.
In the 67-53 win against the Crimson on Dec. 8, the Huskies shot 47.3 percent, including 7 of 14 from 3-point range. They also held Harvard to 36.0 percent shooting and owned a 35-28 rebounding advantage.
Yet UConn did not take control of the game until a 17-3 run in the second half, a fact the players noted with disapproval after letting a first-half lead get whittled to two by halftime.
“I think one thing that separates us from being a great team is we don’t have the killer instinct,” sophomore guard Shabazz Napier told Connecticut’s official website. “We’re up by 15 now let’s punch it in and get home without having a tough game at the end. Once we get that I think we’ll be a great team.”
That kind of attitude comes from coach Jim Calhoun, who expects nothing but the best from the reigning national champions.
“It’s hard to play here because the expectations are very high,” Calhoun said. “We haven’t quite connected yet. And when we get into the meat of our schedule, we have to be connected.”
The Huskies certainly have the bodies to live up to those annual lofty expectations.
Leading scorer Jeremy Lamb had 18 points with seven rebounds against Harvard, while talented freshmen Andre Drummond and Ryan Boatright combined for 23 points.
“They’re very talented, very big,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We didn’t get much of anything easy around the basket which is probably going to happen to a lot of teams when they face this basketball team with their size and athleticism.”
Lamb averages 20.0 points, but has not scored more than 19 in his last four contests. The sophomore swingman, however, has pulled down 13 boards in his last two.
UConn hopes it has a chance to flaunt a newfound killer instinct while trying for a 40th consecutive non-conference home victory. It’s 3-0 at the off-campus home in Hartford this season and 116-4 against New England non-conference opponents at home under Calhoun.
The Huskies have won two straight and seven of the last 10 meetings against Holy Cross. The most recent, an 82-81 victory Feb. 4, 1988.
Holy Cross (4-6), loser of 14 straight games against Top 25 opponents dating to the start of the 1996-97 season, faces its first ranked opponent since a 61-51 loss to then-No. 14 Southern Illinois in the 2007 NCAA tournament.
Senior guard Devin Brown averages a team-leading 14.7 points. He scored 22 in the Crusaders’ 71-60 home win over Sacred Heart on Dec. 9.