New York City- Happy Feast Week!!!! UConn made it 5-0 with an 81-71 victory over Texas in the finals of the Empire Classic. The contest at Madison Square Garden saw the Longhorns (4-1) make a late run before the Huskies sealed the verdict. The numbers…
Offensive Efficiency: UConn 123, Texas 108
"It’s was like a home game for them." So said Texas coach Rodney Terry in post game interviews. Face it, the ‘World’s Most Famous Arena’ is a home away from home for the Huskies and their band of devout followers. The Big East Tournament alone ensures- come events like this, UConn is familiar with and ready to take the Garden floor. Add to the fact UConn was the only school here with cheerleaders, a dance team and band at this event. When the Huskies made a run or needed crowd support you could have closed your eyes and by the sound of the crowd swore you were in Storrs or Hartford. The attendance of 10,988 was decidedly pro Huskies.
Much has been made of the absence of UConn’s Stephon Castle. Texas entered the final without the services of 6’11" Kadin Shedrick who scored a game high 27 points in the semifinal win over Louisville. No excuses for the Longhorns. "Our mindset is next man up," said Dillon Mitchell of Texas, the game’s leading scorer with 21 points. "We have great players. One goes down another steps up."
Last night was UConn’s 22nd consecutive non conference win by double figures. The record is 23 straight by North Carolina. Up next for the Huskies is Manhattan on Friday and New Hampshire the following Monday, both at home.
"We play the day after Thanksgiving so we are canceling Thanksgiving," UConn coach Dan Hurley said in jest. "We’re not going to let the guys eat turkey and be all sluggish and s___ the next day."
Alex Karaban led UConn with 20 points. The 6’8" redshirt sophomore hit two crucial three pointers late in the game as the shot clock was set to expire. "I am kind of calm and laid back," Karaban explained in reference to those two key buckets. On the night Karaban hit four of eight from beyond the arc. Huskies shot 7 of 24 (29%) for the game.
Overall, UConn won the rebounding battle 40-29. They (UConn) attacked the glass the first half," Terry said. "The second half we attacked it a lot better but they made some big shots when it mattered."
The Texas mentor had high praise for the Huskies saying, "They’re really good. They have big guys, team speed and make really good decisions. We’re working toward that. At the end of the day we would like to see each other but on the opposite side of the bracket."
Beside taking home the hardware Hurley felt the two days in New York were invaluable. "We have great potential," the coach said. "We are working a lot of new pieces…we will be a better team as we progress through January, February and March."
Tristen Newton finished with 8 points and 8 assists. The senior guard was named MVP after averaging 15 points, 7 assists and 7.5 rebounds during the two day event. In the championship there were numerous times Newton penetrated and as the defense cut off his penetration he would throw a perfect pass to a teammate wide open on the weak side. A joy to watch.
Cam Spencer had a solid 16 point night. Spencer canned three treys and was 6 of 6 from the charity stripe.
Really impressed with Samson Johnson. The 6’10" junior scored 15 points while pulling down a team leading 8 rebounds. Both figures were career highs. Johnson runs the floor very well and is dangerous as a finisher in transition. In half court offense he may begin to see more looks given his touch (6 of 7 at the rim last night) and ability to overpower opponents in the paint. Simply, he has a great upside.
Closing it out. UConn led 75-69 with two minutes remaining. Here is how the final possessions played out:
Impressive as UConn’s efficiency was 150 over that stretch while Texas checked in at 50. Defending and hitting free throws-a great recipe for putting the finishing touch on a victory.