The penultimate week of the Big East season will feature a matchup of New England rivals on Wednesday night when No. 18 UConn plays host to No. 20 Providence in Storrs, Conn.
Both teams are looking to build upon winning weekends, but the Friars (20-7, 12-4 Big East) have a three-game lead over the Huskies (20-7, 9-7) in the conference standings thanks in part to a 73-61 home victory on Jan. 4 in the teams’ first meeting of the season.
The Huskies, who were ranked fourth in the nation when they visited Providence, have played just once since losing Feb. 11 at then-No. 23 Creighton. They bounced back to beat visiting Seton Hall 64-55 on Saturday.
UConn, which pulled away from the Pirates with a 14-0 run in the second half, got 20 points from Jordan Hawkins. Andre Jackson Jr. added a career-high 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
“I was really happy to see us win a ‘toughness’ game,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “We’ve lost these types of ugly, mud-fight games, physical, choppy types of games.”
The Huskies had a 39-25 rebounding advantage against Seton Hall, including a 14-7 edge on the offensive glass.
Looking ahead, Hurley said, “Providence is one of the most physical teams in the country. They put enormous pressure on you with (Bryce) Hopkins and their centers and (Devin) Carter. These guys take it to you. We have another tough-man competition on Wednesday.”
After beating Seton Hall to move into fifth place in the Big East, UConn has now won 20 games in each of the past two seasons after going five years without reaching that mark.
Providence, meanwhile, has won consecutive games and three of its past four to close the gap on first-place Marquette.
The Friars, who are 8-0 at home and 4-4 on the road in league play, rose four spots in this week’s AP poll.
“Everybody speculated that we weren’t the team we wanted to be in November and December, but (the team improved) with patience, a little bit of chemistry and a little bit of luck,” Friars coach Ed Cooley said. “Everybody still thinks we’re lucky, but you know, I’d rather be lucky than good my entire time.”
Providence is coming off an 85-72 home win over Villanova on Saturday, when Ed Croswell led the way with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Hopkins also had a double-double with 19 points and 12 boards. He was named Big East Player of the Week for the second time this season on Monday.
Hopkins leads the team in scoring (16.9 points per game) and rebounding (9.3 boards per game), and he has averaged 21.3 points over the past four games.
Fifth-year senior Noah Locke has been a key man of late for Providence, averaging 18 points over the past two games. The former Florida and Louisville guard went for 16 points against the Wildcats.
“He’s played in the SEC (and) ACC. Now he’s playing in the Big East, and that’s why he’s playing well, baby,” Cooley said of Locke. “He’s got a lot of Big East juice in him right now. … We’re going to need him to continue to grow and develop. He’s a weapon all over the court.”
–Field Level Media