Connecticut’s first Big East conference matchup since March 2013 was that out of a storybook, as they squared off against one of the conference’s perennial heavyweights that actually benefitted from the chaos of conference realignment from years ago.
Creighton entered the contest at #9 in the Associated Press poll with a record of 5-2, with losses coming to a highly ranked Kansas squad and a tough Marquette team.
UConn, on the other hand, had not played a basketball game in 17 days, dating back to their December 3rd victory over Southern California in “Bubbleville”. UConn’s initially-scheduled Big East games against St. Johns, Georgetown, and Providence were cancelled as a result of a positive COVID-19 test in the program. Nonetheless, Dan Hurley ensured all media members and fans that the “cauldron of intensity” would resume as soon as it was safe too.
Judging by this game, it’s fair to say Coach Hurley is a man of his word.
In a scrappy game that ended with a 76-74 Creighton win in OT, the story of the game falls to UConn guard James Bouknight. Bouknight netted a whopping 40 points on a mark of 13-of-24 from the field. The sophomore showed why the preseason All-Big East second team selection might be a little beneath him, and certainly proved that he’s worthy of NBA draft consideration.
UConn started the game riding Bouknight’s hot hand, but quickly found themselves behind as they attempted to match Creighton at their own game: 3-point shooting. In the 1st half the Huskies shot 2-14 from behind the arc, but were able to trim Creighton’s lead to just 1 point by the half when hopping back on the Bouknight train.
Bouknight’s play carried UConn throughout the 2nd half as well, as the Huskies struggled to find a consistent second scoring option.
Creighton did what Creighton normally does, but without the scoring assistance of Marcus Zegarowski. Although a sub-par game for R.J. Cole on the offensive-end, his defense on Zegarowski kept the Huskies in the game just as much as Bouknight’s scoring did.
Still, Zegarowski showed his skill and experience by staying involved in the game with rebounding, defense, and passing. Creighton’s balanced scoring effort kept the Huskies honest on defense, as they had 5 players with 10+ points at game’s end.
The turning point of the game came with Creighton’s Damien Jefferson, as his soft touch in the paint sent the game to overtime, which appeared to give Creighton the momentum and the subsequent win.
The young, inexperienced Huskies were given a wake-up call by the Blue Jays: You’re not in the AAC anymore. Every conference game will be a battle in the Big East.
Hurley and the Huskies can hang their hat on the persistence and grit that the team played with in spite of their inconsistent shooting. Also, they can hang their hat on their sophomore guard that just dropped 40 points on the #9 team in the country.
Creighton defends home-turf on Wednesday against a surging Xavier squad in Omaha, while the Huskies break until December 30th to face DePaul at home.