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Connecticut defeats West Virginia to remain hot

Mar 1, 2008 - 9:32 PM HARTFORD, Connecticut (Ticker) -- West Virginia could do little to slow down A.J. Price and one of the nation's hottest teams.

Price scored 24 points as 16th-ranked Connecticut defeated the Mountaineers, 79-71, on Saturday for its 12th win in 13 games.

The Huskies remained in contention for the Big East Conference's regular-season title, pulling within one game of co-leaders Georgetown and Louisville with two to play.

"That was two games in a row that, at times, I really enjoyed our offense," said Huskies coach Jim Calhoun, whose team was coming off Tuesday's 79-61 win over Rutgers. "I thought we played very good offense again today."

Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut's 7-3 center, spent most of the first half on the bench after picking up two quick fouls. But he was hardly missed as the Huskies (23-6, 12-4) Big East) shot 63 percent (15-of-24) from the field in the opening 20 minutes.

After West Virginia (20-9, 9-7) opened an early 10-4 lead, Connecticut took control with a 17-5 spurt. The Huskies led by as many as 16 points in the first half before settling for a 42-29 lead at the intermission.

"They jumped on us in the first half," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "We didn't respond the way we needed to respond in the first half."

The Mountaineers picked up their defensive intensity in the second half and rallied behind Joe Alexander, who scored 32 points. West Virginia closed within 66-63 with 4:16 left when John Flowers was credited with a layup on a goaltending call by Stanley Robinson.

"We had no answer for Alexander," Calhoun said. "He's a terrific player. He was just a handful today."

But Craig Austrie hit two free throws and Robinson made a 3-pointer, pushing the Huskies' lead to 71-63 less than a minute later.

"The next step for us is learning how to finish teams off," Price said. "Even though they made a good run and came back, we were still confident that we were going to win the game."

The loss snapped a two-game winning streak for the Mountaineers, who are one of seven Big East teams with at least 20 wins.

"Our problem is, we're not consistent enough," Huggins said. "We wanted too long. That's about what it comes down to."

Calhoun suggested the Huskies let up in the second half because his team is not used to playing with big leads. During the Huskies' recent 10-game winning streak, they won two games by one point and two others by two points.

"I think because we've played in so many close games that, even up six or seven, we were playing it like a two-point game with a minute to go," he said. "That kind of slowed us down."

Still, the Huskies had four players in double figures. Jeff Adrien recorded his 16th double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Robinson and Austrie contributed 12 points apiece.

"As the games are won, we're becoming more and more confident, feeding off each other," Austrie said. "We're learning to play with each other better as the games go along."

The Huskies only 39 percent in the second half but still finished at 51 percent (24-of-47). West Virginia was held to 41 percent (29-of-70)