Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 23:01
After snapping a two-game Big East losing streak with a double-digit home victory against Rutgers on Sunday, the UConn Huskies men’s basketball team will be looking to continue its winning ways and defeat a New England rival, as they travel to Rhode Island to take on the Providence Friars on Thursday at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center at 7 p.m.
UConn (13-5 overall, 3-3 in the Big East) was able to defeat Rutgers 66-54 by making 10 of their final 17 shots of the game. UConn’s leading scorer on the season, junior guard Shabazz Napier, dropped 19 points in the victory for the Huskies.
Providence (10-10, 2-6) is riding a two-game losing streak after falling 81-71 in the team’s most recent contest, an away game against No. 25 Marquette.
Although the Friars haven’t exemplified Big East dominance this season, UConn head coach Kevin Ollie praised Providence’s talent and its ability to win games at home.
“They’re always tough in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center,” Ollie said after practice on Wednesday. “We’re going to have our hands full with them. Every team that goes down there is going to have a challenge.”
The Huskies haven’t won at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center since Jan. 28, 2006.
UConn is led by both Napier (16.7 points per game) and sophomore guard Ryan Boatright (15.9 points per game). In Big East contests, the trio of Napier, Boatright and sophomore forward DeAndre Daniels has combined to average 45.5 points per game, which is the highest of any triumvirate in the conference.
On the flip side, Providence’s biggest threat is junior guard Bryce Cotton. Cotton is the Big East’s leading scorer at 21.7 points per game, and is also the fifth most prolific scorer in the nation. The 6’1” guard is shooting a scorching 41.8 percent from behind the arc and is also averaging more than three three-pointers made per contest.
Napier isn’t exactly sure how to stop Cotton’s offensive game.
“I don’t know, you just got to try your best,” Napier said after practice on Wednesday. “He puts up a lot of shots…you just got to contest them, and hopefully he misses them.”
Providence point guard Vincent Council has already missed half of the season with a hamstring injury, but the senior is averaging 7.1 assists per game in Big East play, which is best in the conference.
Two of UConn’s starting guards, Napier and Boatright, are dealing with minor injuries. Napier didn’t participate in rebounding drills during practice after suffering a left shoulder contusion in UConn’s loss to Louisville two weeks ago. Napier said that his shoulder felt good but that he has had “trouble sleeping.”
“It hurt a little bit today during practice, but it feels a little better,” Napier said.
Boatright has been dealing with left knee tendinitis all season, according to Ollie. Ollie said Boatright’s knee “flared up a little bit” during practice, so he decided to hold UConn’s second-best scorer out of a late practice scrimmage.
Both players are expected to play on Thursday.
Thursday’s game will be the first of two games pitting the lone New England Big East squads against each other this season. Providence will come to Gampel Pavilion on March 9, which will close out the regular season for both teams.
In last season’s contest, the Friars were able to pull out a 72-70 win at home. Cotton scored 22 points in the victory.
“Last year we just didn’t play well,” Napier said. “We were winning the whole game and we just kind of gave it to them at the end.”
UConn is 42-28 all-time in 70 games against Providence, but the Friars have beaten the Huskies in five of the last seven contests.
The game will be televised on SNY and a broadcast can be heard on 91.7 FM WHUS and online at whus.org.