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No. 6 UConn looking for a spark against St. John’s

Jan 7, 2023; Storrs, Connecticut, USA; UConn Huskies forward Adama Sanogo (21) on the court against the Creighton Bluejays in the second half at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

No. 6 UConn looks to reverse a sudden slump Sunday when St. John’s visits Hartford, Conn., for a Big East game.

The Huskies (15-3, 4-3) have lost three of four following a 14-0 start that saw them reach No. 2 in the rankings.

They scored at least 80 points nine times during the undefeated start but have not topped 76 during their slide, including Wednesday’s 82-76 setback at No. 25 Marquette. UConn was outscored 49-39 in the second half after leading by as many as 11 points.

Huskies coach Dan Hurley wants his team to show more toughness in a league known for blue-collar basketball.

“The way the games are played in nonconference and the NCAA Tournament are much different than the way they’re played in league play,” Hurley said. “The games are a lot more physical. We’re proving to be better suited for maybe those other types of games that are played a little bit differently, which makes me feel better about March, but it was scary — the amount of one-on-ones, being driven and scored on, the lack of physical toughness at the point of contact in some situations.”

Donovan Clingan scored 20 points and Alex Karaban added 17 but the Huskies saw quiet nights from Adama Sanogo and their backcourt of Tristen Newton and Jordan Hawkins. Sanogo was held to 10 points while Newton and Hawkins were a combined 4 of 16.

St. John’s (12-6, 2-5) started quickly due to a weakened nonconference schedule but has struggled in various areas since conference play began. The Red Storm won their Big East opener Dec. 7 but lost their next five conference games before dominating in a 77-61 win over visiting Butler on Tuesday night.

“We went out and continued to play winning basketball,” St John’s coach Mike Anderson said. “We’ll build on it. We built on what we did in the (Providence) game. Hopefully, we will build on this as well.”

The Red Storm felt encouraged by their performance last week in a three-point loss at Providence and it carried over to the game against Butler when they shot 52.6 percent — their highest mark in a conference game.

As usual Joel Soriano provided a double-double, upping his NCAA-best total to 15 with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Soriano is averaging 16.4 points and 12.0 rebounds and has scored 20-plus in three of his past four contests.

Besides Soriano’s latest big showing, the Red Storm delivered one of their best defensive efforts of the season.

They allowed their fewest points in a conference game along with their lowest field goal percentage (41.2 percent) in a league game. Posh Alexander also collected six of the team’s 16 steals as the Red Storm forced a season-best 22 turnovers.

“If we want to be one of the top contenders in the conference, we have to have really good defense,” Soriano said.

–Field Level Media