New York Colleges: UConn Huskies

W2W4: St. John's vs. Connecticut

February, 6, 2013
Here are three things to watch for when St. John's (14-8, 6-4 Big East) plays Connecticut (15-5, 5-3 Big East) on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

Tip-off is at 7 p.m., and you can watch the game on ESPNU.

MISSING PIECE: St. John's is expected to be without starting guard Jamal Branch, who injured his left knee in Saturday's loss to Georgetown.

An MRI on Tuesday confirmed that Branch has a sprained MCL. St. John's coach Steve Lavin does not know how long Branch will be out of action.

Branch, who only became eligible in late December, was coming on of late -- one of the team's primary ballhandlers, and its third-leading scorer.

A number of players may pick up extra minutes in Branch's absence. Marco Bourgault, who scored a career-high 12 points on Saturday, could become more of a factor.

BOUNCE BACK? D'Angelo Harrison is coming off the worst game of his college career -- he scored just two points Saturday, shooting 0-for-9 from the field, and was benched for the final 8:52 of the game due to ineffectiveness.

Harrison, who is averaging 18.9 points per game -- 32nd in the country -- has only been held to single digits twice all season. Both of those games were against Georgetown. Look for Harrison to come out strong against UConn.

THE HUSKIES: Connecticut has won three games in a row, but against relatively weak competition -- home wins over Rutgers and South Florida, sandwiched around a road win at Providence. The Huskies needed overtime to win their past two games.

Don't forget that UConn is ineligible for postseason play, including the Big East tournament, this year.

The Huskies, under first-year coach Kevin Ollie, are led by the dynamic backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Napier, a 6-foot-1 junior, is averaging 17.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. Boatright, a 6-foot sophomore, is averaging 16.2 points, 4.6 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game.

UConn is one of the poorest rebounding teams in Division I -- ranked 316th (out of 345 schools) in rebound margin (-4.9). St. John's isn't much better, ranked 292nd (-4.0).

The Huskies are tied for 47th in the country in free throw percentage (73.3). The Red Storm are tied for 320th (63.2).

St. John's shows progress against UConn

December, 31, 2011

HARTFORD, Conn. -- St. John's never led against No. 9 Connecticut on Saturday at the XL Center.

But they never gave up, either. Trailing 70-47 with 7:13 to play, the Red Storm easily could have packed it in on this New Year's Eve. Instead, they went on a 14-2 run to cut the deficit to 11 and make things a little interesting.

David Butler II/US PresswireSir'Dominic Pointer scored 14 points and showed his highlight-reel potential.

St. John's never got closer than that, ultimately losing 83-69. But they competed until the last second. In fact, they didn't even stop there. Sir'Dominic Pointer threw down a one-handed jam off a rebound just after the horn sounded -- indicative of the spirit St. John's exhibited all afternoon long.

"Certainly we learned a lot as a group coming in here and playing obviously one of the better teams in the country," interim head coach Mike Dunlap said. "It felt like we got better since the Kentucky game. But we have a couple more steps to take to be able to compete and try to win this game, which is the ultimate goal for us."

On the first day of December, St. John's faced top-ranked Kentucky in Lexington and was exposed -- trailing by as many as 27, losing 81-59, clearly a class below John Calipari's Wildcats at that time.

On the last day of December, the Red Storm looked very different -- proving they belonged on the same court as a top 10 team, even if the final margin wasn't pretty.

"The biggest improvement was mentally," Dunlap said. "We played with a togetherness. That game could have gotten away from us in a big way.

"We kept coming at them, and I don't know that we had that cohesiveness against Kentucky."

D’Angelo Harrison shot just 4-for-16 from the field, but kept taking the ball to the rack against UConn's intimidating front line, earning 10 free throws and finishing with a team-high 17 points. Pointer attacked the rim on several occasions as well, scoring a career-high 14, including a couple of dunks you will see on "SportsCenter," guaranteed.

And Moe Harkless, who set a new Big East record with 32 points in his conference debut against Providence on Tuesday, scored 16 more -- and learned a valuable lesson.

"I think that I should have done a better job in the end of trying to take over the game," said Harkless, who took only 11 shots on the day. "I didn't assert myself as much as I should have. But for future games I will -- if a time comes like that again, I will take over the game."

UConn, the defending national champion, and clearly capable of winning another one this season, was firing on all cylinders Saturday, in front of a raucous sell-out crowd. The Huskies drained jumpers when they were open, and even when they were not, making 29 of 48 from the field (60.4 percent), including nine of 16 from 3-point range.

St. John’s, on the other hand, made just 21 of 58 (36.2 percent), and four of 24 from beyond the arc.

Yet, despite those numbers, this was a contest. And a much different St. John’s team than the one we saw 30 days ago.

"There's no moral victories," Harkless said. "A loss is a loss. We just gotta get back in the gym and work hard, and on Tuesday we gotta bounce back."

Louisville is next up, at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. Another top 10 opponent -- and another chance for this St. John's team to prove it belongs.