By Mac Cerullo, Sports Editor
Four Huskies finished in double-figures as UConn completed their best all-around team performance of the year, beating Tennessee 72-61 to close out the non-conference season with a perfect 12-0 record.
Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb tied for the team scoring lead with 16 points each, and Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith both contributed 12 points of their own. Oriakhi also had 10 rebounds and 3 blocks, recording his fourth double-double in the past five games.
“We feed off each others’ energy,” Oriakhi said. “When one guy’s playing well, we all feed off it and it helps the team as a whole.”
After the game, coach Jim Calhoun called the game by far the team’s best overall team performance of the year. Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, back after serving half of his eight game SEC suspension, had a similar assessment.
“UConn’s playing better when those other guys play life this,” Pearl said. “It makes them a harder cover. It will open up the lane a little bit more on the inside.”
Besides Lamb and Smith, the Huskies also got several key stretches out of Charles Okwandu and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel. Early in the game, Tennessee got a 12-5 lead and looked ready to knock UConn out quickly, but Coombs-McDaniel hit back-to-back three pointers to cut the deficit to one, igniting the crowd in the process and setting the tone for the rest of the game, which was, until late, a closely contested, back-and-forth affair.
The decisive stretch came with roughly eight minutes left to play. UConn had a 52-51 lead, when Roscoe Smith hit a three off a Napier pass. On the next possession, Okwandu grabbed a missed Walker three and made the put back to give UConn a six point lead. Okwandu’s play sent the crowd into a frenzy, and helped spark a run that ended with an Oriakhi breakaway dunk. At that point, the Huskies had a 64-54 lead, and the game was all but over.
The Huskies next game will be next Tuesday at Marquette.