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Efejuku leads Providence to sweep of Connecticut

Mar 7, 2008 - 6:43 AM PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (Ticker) -- Weyinmi Efejuku's big effort completed an unlikely sweep for Providence.

Efejuku scored 16 of his season high-tying 25 points in the second half as Providence knocked off No. 14 Connecticut with an 85-76 victory in the Big East Conference on Thursday.

It was the first sweep over their New England rivals since the 1988-89 season for the Friars (15-14, 6-11 Big East), who also kept alive their hopes for a berth in the Big East tournament.

Winning for just the third time in its last 12 games, Providence pulled one-half game ahead of DePaul for the 12th and final spot in the postseason event. It will close out the regular season against Villanova on Saturday.

"We're just trying to get to New York," Providence coach Tim Welsh told the Providence Journal. "March is a brand-new month. January and February weren't very nice."

After topping then-No. 18 Arkansas on November 16, the Friars had lost their previous three games against ranked opponents until the rematch with the Huskies.

"It's satisfying, but we can't really celebrate," Providence forward Geoff McDermott told the Journal. "We have to win a lot of games to get to the (NCAA) Tournament."

The surprising loss was just the second in the last 14 games for the Huskies (23-7, 12-5), who had won their previous four trips to the Dunkin' Donuts Center.

"Obviously, they handled us for the second time this season," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun told the newspaper.

Turnovers proved to be a major negative for Connecticut, which dropped a 77-65 decision at home to Providence on January 17 before reeling off 10 straight wins. The Huskies had 12 giveaways in the first half, enabling the Friars to remain within 33-32.

Along with the turnovers, Calhoun was not happy with his team's decisions on shots. For the game, the Huskies went 39 percent (26-of-66) from the field, including 5-of-23 on 3-pointers.

"The shot selection - never mind the percentage - was abysmal," he told the newspaper. "It was the most selfish performance by us in probably 14 games."

Although Stanley Robinson hit a pair of 3-pointers in the opening moments of the second half, Connecticut saw Providence pull ahead due to a 12-3 run. Efejuku capped the burst with consecutive baskets, including a layup that made it 46-42 with 12:55 remaining.

Efejuku also made a big 3-pointer during the run, stepping back to beat the shot clock and snap a 41-41 tie with 13:56 left.

The Huskies responded with a 6-0 run to regain the lead, but the Friars notched nine of the next 10 points to go ahead, 55-49, on a 3-pointer by Jeff Xavier with 8:37 to play.

Always a threat to rally, Connecticut continued to be hampered by poor play down the stretch, as A.J. Price's kickout pass off a drive was intercepted by Geoff McDermott, leading to an alley-oop dunk for Efejuku that made it 73-64 with 1:44 left.

Xavier scored 21 points and McDermott had 12 and nine rebounds for Providence, which finished with 22 points off of UConn's 21 turnovers.

Randall Hanke added 10 points for the Friars, who shot 48 percent (31-of-64) and converted 16-of-18 free throws in scoring at least 85 points for the first time in 13 games.

"It was very disappointing that we couldn't defend. Not to defend a bit," Calhoun told the Journal. "Memphis couldn't score 85 against us. Indiana couldn't score 85, and neither could Georgetown, Louisville or any of those teams. Providence found it easy to do that, and I give them all the credit."

Hasheem Thabeet had 16 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks for the Huskies but was forced to the bench with his fourth foul with 5:32 remaining and UConn trailing, 59-55.

Robinson also scored 16 points and pulled down eight rebounds for the Huskies, who lost despite finishing with a dominating 44-30 advantage on the glass.

Price, who spoke in detail prior to the game about how the Providence players did not show any class in winning the previous contest, had just 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting and committed six turnovers.