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Price, Thabeet power UConn to 12th straight win

Feb 12, 2009 - 4:29 AM STORRS, Connecticut (Ticker) -- Connecticut extended its winning streak to 12 games but Hasheem Thabeet's defensive presence continues to be the talk of the Big East Conference - and possibly the rest of the nation.

A.J. Price scored 17 points and Thabeet commanded the paint on both ends, leading top-ranked Connecticut to a 63-49 victory over No. 22 Syracuse on Wednesday.

Jeff Adrien added 12 points and Craig Austrie chipped in 10 for the Huskies (23-1, 11-1 Big East), who held the Orange 31 points below their season average.

Syracuse shot 32 percent (19-of-60) from the floor - mostly because of Thabeet, who had seven blocks to go along with eight points, 16 rebounds and a number of unofficial altered shots.

"Hasheem continues to prove that there aren't many forces like him in America," Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said. "When you watch the game and guys are traveling and guys are sitting in there five, six seconds, trying to decide what the heck to do - he poses that problem. And he's becoming better offensively, particularly as a passer. He's the difference-maker in so many games."

Suddenly a National Player of the Year candidate, Thabeet fell two points shy of recording his fourth straight double-double, but his seven blocks marked the 10th time this season he has registered five or more.

The 7-3 junior is averaging 13.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 6.8 blocks over his last four games - the last three coming with Connecticut ranked No. 1 in the nation.

"Thabeet is a tremendous defensive player," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "I've said many times, I think he's as good, or better, than anyone who's ever been in the league. We're not a great perimeter team. Our game is to try to get to the basket. (Thabeet) takes that away from you."

The contest was tied early in the second half but Connecticut took over with its defense and key outside shots the rest of the way.

Price scored eight points and Austrie had a pair of 3-pointers during a 21-5 run that gave the Huskies a 56-40 lead with 9:47 remaining.

"We were just patient," Austrie said. "They wanted us to speed the game up and take quick shots. But we needed to be patient, poised and run our offense."

The Orange (18-7, 6-6) cut the deficit to eight with under six minutes to play but Price answered with a 3-pointer from the left corner to push the lead back to double digits and the Huskies cruised the rest of the way.

"In the three years this team has been together (this) win streak is the best we've been playing," Price said. "Number 1 and everything, those are great accolades to have, but we're just playing good basketball right now and we're winning games with defense."

Jonny Flynn scored 16 points and Eric Devendorf had 12 to pace the Orange, who have lost six of their last eight.

"I think we just didn't convert offensively," Boeheim said. "When you're playing a team as good as Connecticut is, and they're a tremendous basketball team, you have to be able to convert opportunities. Your defense can only go so long. Sooner or later you've got to make some plays on offense."

Connecticut lost guard Jerome Dyson to a bruised knee four minutes into the first half and trailed by as many as five early.

The Huskies responded as Price made a pair of 3-pointers during an 8-1 spurt that gave Connecticut a 24-22 lead with 5:52 to play.

Thabeet had five of his blocks in the first half and the contest remained tight over the opening 20 minutes. Austrie's steal and layup gave the Huskies a 30-27 edge at the break as Connecticut led despite 14 turnovers in the first half.

"I was challenging everything today," Thabeet said. "We got their (big men) shooting floaters so we were happy with the whole team defense today. A couple times I got beat my teammates were there. And when they got beat I was there for them. So the team defense keeps us in the game.

"We didn't score that much in the first half. So we said, 'we're going to play defense and they're not going to score either.'"