HARTFORD, Conn. – Kemba Walker scored a season-low 16 points but that was enough to help No. 8 Connecticut beat Tennessee 72-61 on Saturday, spoiling coach Bruce Pearl's return to the Volunteers' bench.
Pearl is in the middle of serving an eight-game Southeastern Conference suspension, but was allowed to coach Saturday's non-conference game against the Huskies.
Jeremy Lamb also scored 16 points for UConn (16-2). Alex Oriakhi had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Roscoe Smith added 12 points.
UConn shot 9 of 19 from 3-point range, including 4 of 5 by Smith. The Huskies, who beat No. 7 Villanova on Monday, have won five in a row.
Melvin Goins had 15 points and Scotty Hopson added 13 for Tennessee (12-7).
Connecticut took the lead for good on Smith's 3-pointer that made it 44-41 early in the second half.
But it was just a five-point lead before Shabazz Napier made a spinning move in the lane and found Lamb behind the arc. Oriakhi then stole the ball from Hopson and dunked, putting UConn up 64-54 with under 5 minutes left.
The Huskies hit enough free throws down the stretch to secure the win.
Tennessee did a good job denying Walker the ball early, and led by as many as eight points as Goins hit all four of his shots in the first half.
It was a physical game, but the first foul wasn't called until Walker picked one up going for an offensive rebound almost 9 minutes in.
The UConn junior went just 6 of 17 from the floor, missed his first five shots and took almost 15 minutes to score his first point, a free throw that made in 24-18 Tennessee.
That started a 10-1 run, highlighted when Charles Okwandu hit a layup, then ran to the other end in time to grab a layup attempt by Tennessee's Skyler McBee out of the air.
Walker's long 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer over Cameron Tatum and Tobias Harris gave the Huskies a 32-31 lead.
Tennessee came into the game undefeated against ranked opponents. The Vols beat Big East members Villanova and Pittsburgh this season and also topped Memphis, the last game Pearl coached before starting his suspension.
Pearl has served half of his eight-game ban from Southeastern Conference play for lying to NCAA investigators. The school is still awaiting word from the NCAA on its recommended sanctions for recruiting violations. The Vols are 2-2 in his absence.
UConn is also awaiting final disposition of its own recruiting case. The school has acknowledged violations stemming from the recruitment of former player Nate Miles, but denied an allegation that coach Jim Calhoun failed to foster an atmosphere of compliance.
Oriakhi recorded his seventh double-double and his fourth in his last five games.
Tennessee came in 6-1 against the Big East under Pearl, with his lone loss coming against Louisville in the 2008 NCAA tournament.
Assistant Tony Jones will be back on the bench for Tennessee on Wednesday when the Volunteers host LSU.