HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun was
praising Marcus Williams by not using his name.
"The point guard, he's different than most point guards you
see," Calhoun said of the sophomore who finished a rebound shy of
a triple-double in Connecticut's 88-74 victory over Notre
Dame on Monday night.
"He makes a significant difference in this team. There is no
point guard better in the Big East. I'm not saying he's the best,
but there is none better right now."
Williams finished with 17 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds.
He entered the game averaging a Big East-best 7.9 assists and he
added in some solid defense against Chris Thomas, who had 16 points
on 6-for-15 shooting for the Fighting Irish (16-8, 8-6).
"The coaches have been pushing me hard all season, getting on
me for every little thing I did," Williams said. "I think it's
starting to pay off for me mentally."
Fellow sophomore Charlie Villanueva matched his career high with
25 points as the Huskies (18-6, 10-3) won for the sixth time in
seven games and lifted Calhoun within two wins of becoming the
sixth active coach with 700.
"Marcus did a great job of finding me and giving me the ball in
the right position where I can score," Villanueva said. "We have
a good relationship on the court and I'm just real familiar with
his game. I go to the right places, he's going to get me the ball.
He's a great passer. I believe he's college's best secret."
Not for long, even if Calhoun refers to him by his position as a
"Williams does such a good job of controlling the whole tempo
of things," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "He's really just a
very good young guard."
Williams keyed the Huskies' 9-2 run in the first half that gave
them a 31-23 lead with 7:19 left. He scored on two drives in the
run and had a nice pass to Villanueva for a three-point play.
The Huskies (No. 19 ESPN/USA Today; No. 17 AP) led 45-32 at halftime after shooting 56 percent from
the field. The Irish closed within eight points early in the half
at 49-41, but they were never closer than 10 points in the final 5
Villanueva had a rough game in the first meeting of these teams,
a 78-74 Notre Dame victory. He was 2-for-8 from the field and had
six points in that game. On Monday, he was 9-for-14 from the field
and had four rebounds and four blocked shots.
"I wanted this game real bad," Villanueva said. "When we were
out in Indiana they dominated us in the paint. I just refused to
let that happen today. We were all on the same page and basically
we just refused to lose."
The Huskies finished with a 43-26 advantage on the boards and
outscored the Irish 42-24 in the paint.
"We just couldn't keep them off the boards," Brey said. "They
really were in a great rhythm with their frontline tonight."
When Notre Dame got to 53-44 with 14:40 left, Villanueva scored
the Huskies' next eight points as the lead went back to 61-46 with
The loss dropped Notre Dame to 1-5 in its last six road games,
but the first four losses were by a total of 11 points.
"You're glad you're done playing them, quite frankly," Brey
said. "You're glad you got a split with them."
The Irish close the regular season with three home games -- UCLA,
Rutgers and Pittsburgh (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today; No. 18 AP) -- and need at least two victories to
avoid worrying about an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
"Notre Dame is a Tournament worthy team," Calhoun said.
"They'll be a tough out."
This was Connecticut's fourth straight game without leading
scorer Rashad Anderson. The Huskies' leading scorer (13.8) was
released from the hospital Monday after a 13-day stay for treatment
of an infection in his leg. He sat on the bench in street clothes
and there is no set date for his return.
"It was great making jokes again with him but this was serious
what could have happened to him," Brown said before talking about
the Huskies and their recent run. "We're coming around. We have
turned that corner."