For the second time in just over two weeks, UConn will take on Memphis, this time welcoming the Tigers to a sold-out XL Center as the Huskies look to pick up their fifth conference win of the season.
Since UConn’s 70-63 loss at Memphis on Feb. 1, the Huskies (13-11, 4-7 the American) have played some of their best basketball of the season, taking down Tulsa on the road and squeaking by Cincinnati at home for their first win in overtime in four tries this season before falling to SMU by four on the road.
Despite the loss to the Mustangs, UConn’s recent success is largely due to the reemergence of standout freshman James Bouknight, who is once again playing like he did when he broke out earlier this season at the Charleston Classic. Over his last three games, Bouknight has scored at least 20 points in all of them and is shooting 62 percent from the 3-point line. While he managed 17 points last time against the Tigers, he did so on 5-15 shooting from the field and has been much more efficient since then, shooting 53 percent from the floor over the last three games.
Bouknight and the Huskies will need to continue trending positively against the Tigers, who remain one of the best shotblocking teams in the country and swatted 10 shots against UConn in their last matchup.
Between versatile bigs Precious Achiuwa and Lance Thomas, the Huskies frontcourt of Josh Carlton, Akok Akok and Isaiah Whaley will have its hands full. The Tigers duo combined for 30 points, 12 rebounds, seven blocks and four steals in their last matchup, and while Achiuwa is one of the biggest matchup problems in the country, UConn will need to either step up their game on the boards or use Bouknight, Jalen Gaffney or Alterique Gilbert to attack the rim and try to get Achiuwa and Thomas into foul trouble.
The Huskies will also need to contain Lester Quinones, who played one of his best games of the year against UConn and has been hot ever since and is fresh off an 18-point performance in a 92-86 overtime loss to Cincinnati.
While this Memphis team is certainly still talented, they’re not the national title contenders many expected them to be at the start of the season, largely due to the loss of standout center James Wiseman. With Wiseman long gone, NCAA investigations looming, and bad losses to Georgia, Tulsa and USF, the Tigers have little room for error if they want to sneak in to the NCAA Tournament.
UConn’s situation is much more dire, with the Huskies having a slim-to-none chance of getting back to the tournament with an at-large bid. But after snapping a four-game losing streak with a convincing win over Temple at the end of January, the Huskies are trending up and showing that they can compete with any team in the American. A win over Memphis in front of sold-out crowd at the XL Center could help this team get over a tough loss to SMU and build some momentum heading into the end of the regular season and into the conference tournament.
Prediction: A loud XL Center crowd and another strong performance from Bouknight helps the Huskies get the W. Bouknight gets some extra help from Christian Vital and Gaffney on offense, and Whaley helps the Huskies slow down Achiuwa and Thomas with solid defense and a strong performance on the boards. UConn 72, Memphis 64.
How to watch
Where: XL Center, Hartford, Connecticut
When: 3 p.m. ET
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network