Hartford, CT (SportsNetwork.com) - The 12th-ranked Connecticut Huskies will try to keep their perfect start to the season alive, as they welcome New England rivals, the Maine Black Bears to the XL Center.
Maine, which operates out of the American East Conference, has stumbled out of the gate this season with just one win in seven tries, with that lone triumph coming against NAIA opponent Fisher College on Nov. 10 (111-64). The Black Bears are losers of five in a row, most recently dropping a road contest at NJIT, 81-72.
Meanwhile, UConn has opened the season at 8-0, climbing from its No. 18 ranking in the preseason poll up to No. 12. Among the Huskies' early credentials are a couple of thrilling victories against top-notch programs. In the championship game of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 22, they earned a 59-58 win over Indiana. They delivered theatrics the last time out as well, as a game-winning shot by Shabazz Napier at the buzzer lifted them to a 65-64 win over nationally-ranked Florida on Monday night.
This bout marks the 99th meeting between these two programs, with UConn holding a convincing 82-16 series advantage, which includes 11 wins in a row.
The Black Bears never had a shot to knock off NJIT the last time out due to their poor showing from the field, as they made just 36.4 percent of their attempts overall, including 8-of-26 from 3-point range. One player who was impervious to the struggles, however, was Zarko Valjarevic, who scored 19 points on 5-of-10 from beyond the arc. Xavier Pollard was also solid with 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Garet Beal chipped in 12 points. Although Maine has been generating impressive point totals in the early going this season (77.1 ppg), it's ultimately all for naught as it allows a lofty 88.7 points per game at the other end. Dimitry Coronel (16.1 ppg) leads the club, while Pollard (15.8 ppg), Valjarevic (13.7 ppg) and Shaun Lawton (11.5 ppg, 5.2 apg) are also off to stellar starts.
In what was a back-and-forth battle with Florida down the stretch, UConn lost the lead with 18 seconds left only to win the game in walk-off fashion when Napier's wild last-second prayer was answered. The heroics capped off a spectacular night for Napier, who dropped in 26 points on 9-of-15 from the floor (5-of-8 from 3-point range) to go with three steals. Otherwise, it was a modest shooting night for the home team (.434), with DeAndre Daniels the only other player to finish in double digits with 14 points. On the season, the Huskies have played sound at both ends of the floor, as they outshoot their opponents, 48.5 percent to 37.4 percent, en route to a +12.0 scoring margin. Napier has proven himself to be one of the nation's premiere playmakers, as he puts up 16.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists and nearly two steals per game all while shooting greater than 50 percent from the floor and 60 percent from beyond the arc. Daniels (13.5 ppg), Ryan Boatright (11.4 ppg) and Niels Giffey (9.5 ppg) are also integral pieces to the puzzle.