CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands (AP)—Second-ranked Connecticut got its leader back on the court Friday and stayed unbeaten with a hard-fought 89-81 victory over La Salle at the Paradise Jam.
After missing a game with an ankle injury, guard A.J. Price played 32 minutes, and had 12 points and four assists. His ankle seemed fine—but his jaw was swollen from an abscessed tooth that was causing him pain.
“Yeah, I played in a lot of pain today, but it’s something that had to be done,” Price said outside the locker room. “I’m the emotional leader of this team and even though I didn’t have my best game, I’m definitely pretty pleased with how I played.”
The unanimous All-Big East first-team selection last season got a lot of help from Kemba Walker, who scored a team-high 23 points, and Jeff Adrien, who added 22 and grabbed 14 rebounds to help Connecticut (3-0) get past a tough La Salle team.
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun had nothing but good things to say about Price, who said he was getting his tooth drained on Saturday.
“He played in an awful lot of pain. But I liked the way he played, liked the way he pushed the game,” Calhoun said of Price, who did not play in UConn’s 99-56 win over Hartford on Monday after hurting his ankle in the season-opening 81-55 victory over Western Carolina.
What Calhoun didn’t like was the inconsistent rebounding and some easy baskets for La Salle, which shot 50 percent from the field.
“We gave up 50 percent twice last year. We gave it up tonight,” Calhoun said. “It was just too easy for them.”
But he stressed that La Salle (1-2) was a “hard matchup” and said playing an effective zone was what helped put the Huskies over the top.
La Salle took control in the opening minutes, but trailed 46-40 at halftime with help from Adrien’s 13 first-half points and Walker’s nine.
“Our team is tough. We don’t give up,” Walker said.
The Huskies never trailed in the second half, leading by as much as 10 points in the final minute. They shot 54.7 percent from the field, scoring 40 points in the paint.
But the Explorers ran the Huskies ragged, scoring 12 points on fast breaks and knocking bodies around for loose balls and rebounds.
Rodney Green had a game-high 25 points for La Salle, shooting 11-for-21 from the field. Ruben Guillandeaux and Yves Mekongo Mbala each had 13 points.
La Salle coach John Giannini said he was mostly pleased with his team’s energetic effort against the No. 2 Huskies.
“We played very hard against an outstanding team. We gave them something to be concerned about and pushed them pretty hard,” Giannini said.
Both teams struggled with 3-pointers. The Huskies attempted 10 shots from behind the arc, making two, while the Explorers tried 13 and hit four.
The Huskies will take on No. 17 Miami in the second round on Sunday. La Salle will play Southern Mississippi.