UCF (9-4) at Connecticut (12-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, January 11, 6 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Gampel Pavilion (10,167) -- Storrs, Connecticut. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: UCF 8-2, UConn 8-1. Away Record: UCF 1-2, UConn 1-2. Neutral Record: UCF 0-0, UConn 3-0. Conference Record: UCF 1-1, UConn 0-2. Series Record: Connecticut leads, 3-1.
GAME NOTES: The Connecticut Huskies return to American Athletic Conference action on Saturday night at Gampel Arena when they play host to the UCF Knights.
After dropping its AAC opener to nationally-ranked Louisville on New Year's Eve (90-65), UCF registered its first league win last Saturday over Temple, 78-76. The Knights have now won six of their last seven to improve to 9-4 overall, although they are just 1-2 away from home.
UConn was one of the nation's top teams early in the season, winning 11 of its first 12 games, while rising as high as No. 10 in the polls, but it promptly fell from the ranks following an 0-2 start in the AAC with road losses at Houston (75-71) and SMU (74-65). The Huskies got back on the winning track on Wednesday night however, by claiming a 61-56 non-conference home victory over Harvard.
The Huskies have beaten the Knights in three of four all-time meetings. These new conference rivals last played in November of 2011, when UCF downed then- No. 4 UConn, 68-63.
In a game that had eight ties and six lead changes, UCF got the best of Temple down the stretch in its most recent game, with Eugene McCrory's two free throws with 5:28 remaining proving to be the game-winning points. Despite shooting a lackluster 3-of-13 from beyond the arc, UCF shot an impressive 49.2 percent overall and earned extra possessions by outrebounding the Owls, 41-27. Isaiah Sykes was fantastic in the victory with 23 points, 15 rebounds and six assists. McCrory also tallied a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Kasey Wilson netted 18 as well.
The Knights have grown accustomed to high-scoring outputs this season, as they make 47 percent of their field-goal tries (including 38.3 percent from beyond the arc) for 78.8 ppg, 9.2 ppg more than they allow. It's not all great for the offense however, as they are hindered in close games by one of the nation's worst free-throw percentages (.592). Sykes is the catalyst, posting 15.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg and 3.5 apg, all team highs, while shooting 50.9 percent from the field. Calvin Newell (13.7 ppg), Tristan Spurlock (12.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Wilson (11.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg) are also integral pieces of the puzzle.
UConn had a tough time earlier in the week with a Harvard squad that plays great defense, as it shot just 40 percent from the field and committed 15 turnovers, but it was able to hang on for the five-point win by holding the Crimson to a lowly 35.7 percent shooting. Shabazz Napier shot just 4-of-12 from the field but was strong at the charity stripe (7-of-8) on his way to 18 points. Ryan Boatright scored 14 points, while DeAndre Daniels registered 11 points, eight rebounds and four blocks.
The Huskies are usually a much more effective offensive squad, as they shoot field goals at greater than 46 percent efficiency for 74.3 ppg and are one of the AAC's most deadly from beyond the arc, draining 7.5 3-pointers per game at a 42.2 percent clip. They also play outstanding defense, allowing 64.9 ppg on 39.1 percent shooting. Napier is unquestionably one of the nation's most well- rounded guards, tallying 16.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 5.7 apg and 2.0 spg all while shooting a lofty 48.1 percent from 3-point distance. Boatright (12.9 ppg) and Daniels (12.7 ppg) are solid complementary options.
On purely a talent level, UCF has the personnel to keep pace with UConn, especially in the frontcourt, but the Knights simply haven't been the same team away from their home gym. Expect UConn to rebound from its early AAC struggles to notch its first league win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Connecticut 79, UCF 72
01/11 12:25:34 ET