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Thursday, February 10, 2011
W2W4: St. John's vs. Connecticut

By Kieran Darcy



Here are three things to watch in Thursday night's game between St. John's (13-9, 5-5 in Big East) and No. 9 UConn (18-4, 6-4) at Madison Square Garden.

Tip-off is at 7 p.m., and the game will air on ESPN, and be available on ESPN3.com.

GUARD PLAY: This game features two of the best guards in the Big East, in UConn's Kemba Walker and St. John's Dwight Hardy.

Walker gets more attention -- and rightly so, since he's a first-team All-Big East player who's sixth in scoring the country, averaging 23.2 points per game. But he has struggled of late. After scoring at least 20 points in 14 of his team's first 17 games, Walker has done that just once in the past five games, and has shot just 31.8 percent over his past six games.

"Kemba is the focal point of the team and he's playing with a lot of confidence," said St. John's guard Paris Horne on Wednesday. "We're just going to try to take a lot of touches from him and stop him in transition."

Hardy, on the other hand, is coming off a career-high 32 points against UCLA on Saturday, and scored 26 in St. John's upset of Duke on Jan. 30. He is now averaging 15.8 points per game overall, to lead the Red Storm -- and they will need a big game from Hardy to knock off the Huskies.

"It was a breakthrough performance," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said of Hardy's play against UCLA. "He's always been able to shoot and score, and now he's even better at playmaking and decision-making. He's adding those dimensions to his game as the season goes along."

Both Walker and Hardy hail from the Bronx, making this a particularly appetizing matchup.

BOARD WORK: UConn is one of the strongest rebounding teams in America. The Huskies are sixth nationally in rebounds per game (41.2), and 35th in rebounding margin per game (+5.1).

St. John's, meanwhile, is 309th (out of 336 D-1 schools) in rebounds per game (31.6) and 242nd in rebounding margin per game (-1.5). Since Jan. 1, St. John's is minus-4.4 rebounds per game, one of the nation's worst averages.

The Red Storm must box out and crash the glass on Thursday night, or else the Huskies could overpower them.

CROWD CONTROL: It will be very interesting to see the breakdown of the audience tonight, St. John's fans versus UConn fans. The Huskies had won nine straight in this series, prior to St. John's 73-51 win in the first round of the Big East tournament last season, and have had strong crowds at the Garden in recent years.

But St. John's has beaten three top-15 teams at MSG already this season, and this is the Red Storm's first game at the Garden since their shocking win over Duke. Their fans should wrest control of their home arena for this pivotal conference game. A win over UConn would go a long way towards putting St. John's back into the Big Dance for the first time since 2002.