Red Storm point guard DJ Kennedy (1) reacts after a...

Red Storm point guard DJ Kennedy (1) reacts after a basket during the second half against the Connecticut Huskies at Madison Square Garden. (Feb. 10, 2011) Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

It's starting to look as though first-year St. John's coach Steve Lavin brought his star power with him from the West Coast. The students who held up cardboard letters that formed a "LAVINWOOD'' sign think so.

And the senior-dominated team Lavin has transformed from Big East underachiever into NCAA Tournament material played like it in a shockingly impressive 89-72 win over 10th-ranked Connecticut Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

Led by Dwight Hardy's career-high 33 points, the victory by the Red Storm (14-9, 6-5) was its fifth over a ranked opponent this season and came just 11 days after St. John's pounded then-No. 3 Duke by 15 points in its previous MSG appearance.

Not only is St. John's building an NCAA resume, but if the field were selected today, the Red Storm would deserve to be in the top half of the field. Comparing the Duke and UConn blowouts, Hardy said, "This game was bigger because the race in the Big East is so tight, but Duke helps the resume more because they were No. 3.''

Who could have imagined the Red Storm talking in such grand terms a year ago at this time? The loss was the third in four games for UConn (18-4, 6-5), but coach Jim Calhoun noted that the Huskies' other defeats were hard-fought.

"Tonight was a different story,'' he said. "The game was over quickly in the second half, and we haven't allowed that to happen against some very good teams.''

Hardy won his personal battle of Bronx-born guards with the Huskies' Kemba Walker, who was limited to 15 points and 4-for-16 shooting.

Roscoe Smith led UConn with 16 points, but the Huskies were outrebounded 43-33 and let St. John's shoot 70.8 percent in the second half (17-for-24).

D.J. Kennedy added 20 points, 11 rebounds and five assists for the Red Storm and Paris Horne had 12 points. St. John's outscored UConn 27-2 on the fast break and 40-18 in the paint.

The game turned in the final 30 seconds before intermission. Hardy hit a three to put St. John's in front 32-31, and after a Huskies turnover, Malik Boothe banked in a 37-foot shot at the buzzer for a 35-31 lead. Calhoun was incensed that Boothe wasn't called for traveling and got hit with a technical foul that carried over to the second half.

"I do think four steps is a bit too much,'' Calhoun said. "I'll take three, but the fourth got me.''

Hardy made both technical foul shots to start the half, and then Kennedy made a layup. That gave the Red Storm 10 straight points in a stretch in which UConn touched the ball once and turned it over.

If the game wasn't over at that point, it soon was decided in a stretch in which St. John's made nine straight baskets to push its lead to 69-45. Hardy had two three-point plays on circus shots in the lane and buried three three-pointers in that run. Overall, he shot 10-for-17, including 5-for-8 from three-point range, while becoming the first St. John's player with back-to-back 30-point games since Marcus Hatten in 2003.

"It's a great feeling to know we're putting on a good show,'' Hardy said. "I was in the zone. I kind of black out and the basket gets bigger and bigger. We were feeling it as a team.''

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