The thrilling victory at Texas was in the rearview. Kemba Walker's game-winner and Roscoe Smith's inexplicable heave were all over ESPN. The Huskies were back in a good place, and back home to face overmatched Rutgers.
The last time the Huskies returned home from a thrill ride, the Maui Invitational, they were rather flat against New Hampshire. They were rather flat against Rutgers, too, but not for long -- and the defense never waned. This victory left Jim Calhoun satisfied and new Scarlet Knights coach Mike Rice calling out players for quitting.
From the newspaper of Jan. 12, 2011
By MIKE ANTHONY
HARTFORD -- The way UConn blitzed Rutgers early in the second half Tuesday at the XL Center wasn't just about Kemba Walker's creativity, the team's overall speed or anything else we've grown accustomed to seeing when all is going well.
It certainly included those things, but it reached another level. The Huskies were as efficient as they were energetic on offense, as intelligent as they were tough on defense, putting together an eight-minute stretch that coach Jim Calhoun referred to as "that explosion."
The No. 10 Huskies cruised to a 67-53 victory over the unranked Scarlet Knights, receiving a standing ovation from a crowd of 12,527 in a 20-2 run to open the second half.
"We really played defense," Calhoun said. "It's one of those games that the final score wasn't indicative of the play. This played like a 20-, 25-point [victory], where we dominated the whole second half."
Coming off Saturday's thrilling overtime victory at Texas, the Huskies were flat for the early portion of the game but hinted at what was to come with a few baskets just before halftime.
Then, boom, the explosion. Combined with an 11-4 run to close the first half, UConn outscored Rutgers 31-6 to lead 52-29.
"We put the pedal to the metal," said Shabazz Napier, who steered the UConn offense through that stretch and finished with a career-high seven assists.
And lowly Rutgers (10-6, 1-3 Big East) crumbled.
With a snowstorm about to blanket Hartford and his team having run into a blizzard on the court, new coach Mike Rice probably couldn't get back to Piscataway soon enough. It almost sounded as if he wanted to leave a few players behind.
"You can't control what happens to you," Rice said. "You control how you respond. We responded as immaturely and soft as we've played all season, to the point where I thought some guys actually quit on the floor. That's very disturbing. The mental softness of this team is unbelievable."
Kemba Walker matched a season low with 18 points, but he was UConn's leading scorer for the 15th time in as many games and was more resourceful than he has been. Walker made seven of 15 shots in 36 minutes, failing to score 20 points for just the third time.
UConn again made a concerted effort to get the ball to Alex Oriakhi, who built on his dominant performance in Texas. He didn't score the first few times he was fed the ball, but those touches engaged him and he finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. He was the defensive anchor in the 20-2 run.
"My whole goal is to be consistent," Oriakhi said. "I told myself, 'I don't think there's anyone that can really guard me.' I just wanted the ball even more."
Jamal Coombs-McDaniel made two first-half three-pointers and finished with nine points in 22 minutes. Roscoe Smith had eight and Donnell Beverly seven. The Huskies had 14 assists on 26 baskets and shot 45.6 percent while holding Rutgers to 34.5.
The Scarlet Knights were led by Mike Poole (11 points and 10 rebounds), the only Rutgers player in double figures.
Still, this was a contest for quite some time. Coombs-McDaniel made a three-pointer to give UConn the lead for good at 24-23, and the Huskies led 32-27 at halftime. From there, it was a laugher.
Smith converted a three-point play that made it 35-27, and Napier made a pull-up jumper to push the lead to double-digits. Kemba Walker made a runner on the right. Next, he put back a wild miss by Jamal Coombs-McDaniel. Yes, every little bounce was also going the Huskies' way. Smith's ensuing three-pointer on the left, the result of terrific ball movement, made it 44-27.
Timeout. The crowd rose and cheered. Rutgers missed 12 of 13 shots to open the second half.
"I kind of like the way we played," Calhoun said. "I really did. I didn't like the way we started, but I liked everything else."
The turnaround, players said, was an eye-opening halftime speech from Calhoun, who probably was more emphatic in delivering the same message he has the last couple days: Play with the passion you did at Texas.
"One of the more important things you have to do in the Big East, particularly coming off an emotional, incredible game on Saturday," Calhoun said, "is take care of home business."