Hartford, CT (SportsNetwork.com) - Continuing their quest for the American Athletic Conference regular-season crown, the 21st-ranked SMU Mustangs hit the trail to tangle with the Connecticut Huskies on Sunday afternoon.
At 14-2 in conference, SMU is a dead heat with Tulsa for the AAC's top spot, with a showdown with the Golden Hurricane in Dallas next Saturday likely to decide the winner. The Mustangs won at Memphis this past Thursday, 66-57, to claim their fifth straight victory and move to 23-5 on the season. It was the team's sixth straight road win, and its eighth in 11 opportunities on enemy hardwood this season.
Connecticut enters the fray sporting a 16-11 record, and its 9-6 league ledger has it in the middle of the AAC pack. The defending national champs have won their last two games, topping Tulane (67-60) and East Carolina (60-49) in the last week, and they've won five of their last seven overall. The Huskies are 10-3 at home in 2014-15, having won their last six in front of the frenzied UConn faithful.
SMU beat up on visiting UConn in the first meeting just a couple of weeks ago, 73-55, running its record in the all-time series to 4-0.
In that first encounter in Dallas on Feb. 14, Markus Kennedy and Yanick Moreira scored 13 points apiece to pace the Ponies, while the Huskies were led by Ryan Boatright with 19 points.
SMU is the top scoring team (69.5 ppg) in the American, while ranking second in scoring defense (59.0 ppg). The Mustangs boast three active double-digit scorers, and a fourth (Keith Frazier, 10.5 ppg) who is out indefinitely due to academics. Nic Moors spearheads the offensive attack with 14.6 ppg, that figure ranking him fourth in the conference, and he also serves as the top playmaker in the league with his 5.4 apg. Moreira and Kennedy round out the group by netting 11.5 and 10.5 ppg, respectively, with the former pulling down 6.7 rpg and the latter helping out with 5.8 rpg. SMU leads the league in rebounding margin (+6.5), assists (15.9 apg) and assist-to-turnover margin (1.2), in addition to being the best shooting team from the field overall (.487) as well as the foul line (.699), and it is also tops in field goal percentage defense (.379).
With its victory at Memphis earlier in the week, SMU set a new school record for conference road wins (seven). Moore scored 14 of his team-high 16 points in the second half, as the Mustangs made a two-point lead at intermission stand up. Moreira and Ryan Manuel chipped in 11 points apiece for the visitors, who knocked down half of their 14 3-point attempts as part of a 46.9 percent shooting effort overall, and they held the Tigers to 41.1 percent field goal efficiency, which included a 5-of-15 showing beyond the arc. SMU converted only 13-of-24 free throws, but outscored the home team at the stripe by seven points.
As it is in the AAC standings, Connecticut is a middle-of-the-pack club with regard to most statistical categories, including scoring offense (65.1 ppg) and scoring defense (60.4 ppg). The team's offensive exploits come as a result of having the league's leading scorer on the roster, as Boatright nets 17.5 ppg due in large part to his 41.7 percent performance out on the perimeter. He has also dished out 112 assists this season. As a team, the Huskies are draining 34.8 percent of their long-range launches, and they do a particularly good job of limiting open looks at the basket to their opponents, who shoot just 39.5 percent from the floor. Amida Brimah (10.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Daniel Hamilton (10.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg) have been productive guys as well for coach Kevin Ollie's club this season.
Boatright scored 16 points, Brimah and Rodney Purvis added 12 each, and Hamilton grabbed 17 rebounds to go with nine points and five assists in UConn's recent win over East Carolina. The Huskies shot just 39.2 percent from the field, which included a 7-of-28 effort beyond the arc, but they limited the Pirates to 3-of-20 accuracy from 3-point land and only 32.2 percent from the field overall. ECU had an especially tough time after intermission, scoring a mere 16 points in the second half, compared to 36 for the visiting Huskies.