The sixth-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers are the “beasts of the east”. At least they are for now. And Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun saw it coming from a mile away.
At Big East media day Calhoun said it’s too early for his young team to be playing Pitt (13-1, 1-0). Unfortunately, that’s the way the schedule played out.
Calhoun’s sentiment is perfectly understandable. He has six freshmen. Teams that young don’t generally dominate. But the No.4 Huskies (10-1, 0-1) had been downright impressive in spite of their youth, with wins over Michigan State and Kentucky.
Monday night wasn’t to be for Connecticut, however. And Calhoun’s fears came to fruition as Kemba Walker had the carry the load himself in a 78-63 loss. Walker had 31 points and was the only Huskies player to score in double figures. In fact, of Connecticut’s eight second-half field goals Walker made six.
Walker leads the nation in scoring and has been all but unstoppable. At some point another scorer needs to be found.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, had a balanced scoring attack with four players in double figures. The Panthers backcourt of junior Ashton Gibbs (21 points) and senior Brad Wanamaker combined for 35 points.
Pittsburgh is no stranger to top 5 opponents. The Panthers have won their last eight games against top 5 teams. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon was pleased with his team's defense.
“[Walker] had 31 points, but the fact that they came on 27 shots speaks for itself," Dixon said. "Shooting percentage is key in defending him as obviously he’s a very big part of what they do on offense."
Gibbs lauded his team's heady play down the stretch.
“I thought they showed [their youth] a little bit, but I thought we showed that we were a veteran team more, especially towards the end of the game," Gibbs said. "We slowed the game down and made some critical baskets. We didn’t force anything. We showed that we are experienced.”
Things won't get any easier for Connecticut, which has a three-game stretch against South Florida, Notre Dame and Texas. That trio games is followed by a home game against an improving Rutgers team on January 11.