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Thabeet stands tall in UConn's pounding of Western Carolina

STORRS, Conn. -- Hasheem Thabeet believes that if his teammates get him the ball down low this season, nobody will be able to stop him.

The 7-foot-3 junior from Tanzania scored 23 points and had a career-high 17 rebounds to lead No. 2 Connecticut to a season-opening 81-55 win Friday over Western Carolina.

Thabeet, who towered 7 inches over any defender the Catamounts sent at him, also blocked five shots. He was 7-of-11 from the field, with most of his attempts from inside 5 feet.

After two years as the Huskies' defensive stopper, Thabeet says he ready to step it up on offense.

"The way I'm getting better, it's going to be hard to stop somebody 7-3, 272 pounds in the blocks," he said. "I've got an idea what to do with the basketball now."

Jerome Dyson also scored 23 points for UConn, and Jeff Adrien added 14 points and seven rebounds.

The Huskies extended their winning streak at Gampel Pavilion to 46 games in November and December, dating to the opening of the arena in 1990. UConn is 19-4 in season openers under coach Jim Calhoun.

Brandon Giles led Western Carolina with 16 points. Harouna Mutombo, nephew of NBA star Dikembe Mutombo, added 11 points and Jake Robinson had 10.

Connecticut opened the game on a 13-0 run. It included a tomahawk dunk from Dyson, who took a steal and went the length of the court, drawing a foul. The Catamounts didn't score until Jake Robinson hit a 3-pointer just over 5 minutes into the game.

"I thought the first six or seven minutes we were really, really good defensively," Calhoun said. "I think it set a good tone for the game."

The Huskies, who led 40-25 at the break, shot 51 percent from the field, while holding Western Carolina to just 34 percent.

"There was about a 20-minute period there where we played right with them," said Catamounts coach Larry Hunter. "We just got down early, and late in the ballgame, we got down a bit more."

UConn's A.J. Price was ejected after a flagrant foul with just over 7 minutes left when he punched Joey Parker in the stomach as the two were battling for position on the left side of the lane.

"That particular play was just frustration built up throughout the whole game, because of what was going on between both teams," Price said. "We both got tangled up, and it wasn't just me who did anything and I got the flagrant because he got the worst of it."

Price, who tore the ACL in his left knee during UConn's loss to San Diego in the first round of the NCAA tournament, gave fans a scare in the first half. He went down after taking a 3-point shot, clutching that leg. It appeared he came down on the foot of Western Carolina's Brigham Waginger. Price received a loud ovation when he returned to the game just over 3 minutes later.

"I stayed down a little longer than I wanted to because I didn't want people to think it was the knee," Price said. "I knew I twisted my ankle pretty good; I rolled it."

Price said he wasn't sure if he would be able to go Monday, when the Huskies host Hartford.

Freshman Kemba Walker had eight points and five assists in his first collegiate game.

The Huskies have not lost a regular season game in Storrs in November or December since Dec. 5, 1973.

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