Third-seeded Connecticut used a 12-0 run late in the first half to break the game open and ease past 14th-seeded Bucknell, 81-52 Thursday in an NCAA West region opening round game at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
Five years ago as a 14-seed, Bucknell upset 3rd-seeded Kansas, and in the same tournament, top-seeded UConn fell to Cinderella George Mason. However, any hope of a similar result this season ended for the underdog Bison when the Huskies stretched a 27-20 lead to a 39-22 halftime advantage.
It didn’t get any better for Bucknell in the second half. At one point, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun called a timeout and put star guard Kemba Walker back into the game after a Bucknell bucket cut the UConn lead in half, to 62-31.
Playing five games in five days last week to win the Big East tournament was not a problem for UConn (27-9). It turned out to be the undermanned Bison who tired against the taller, more athletic Huskies.
Connecticut point guard Kemba Walker was smiling and having fun out there, as the player of the year candidate scored 18 points and dished out 12 assists, a career-high and the most ever for a UConn player in an NCAA tournament game. Walker also grabbed eight rebounds. UConn forward Roscoe Smith scored 17 points and guard Jeremy Lamb added 16 off the bench.
UConn held Patriot Player of the Year Mike Muscala in check with 14 points but just 3 rebounds. Other than the 6-11 Muscala, Bucknell’s tallest starter was 6-7, and the Huskies outmuscled the Bison on the boards, winning the rebounding advantage 41-20, including 10-1 on the offensive end. Bucknell (25-9) couldn’t find any weaknesses in Connecticut’s defense, and shot just 31 percent for the game.
“At times tonight I thought we were brilliant offensively,” said Calhoun after the game. “We really tried to choke them defensively.”
The Patriot League regular season and tournament champions came into the game riding a 10-game winning streak but left Washington, D.C. disappointed.
It wasn’t a good showing for the Patriot League. In 2008 and 2009, at least American University played Tennessee and Villanova competitively into the second half.
UConn will take on the winner of Thursday night’s West regional matchup between 6th-seeded Cincinnati and 11th-seeded Missouri Saturday in Washington.
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