UConn Routs Providence, 75-57
STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Jim Calhoun is one of those coaches who doesn’t hide his emotions. It seems every Connecticut team has had one or two players who see that side more than others.
Jamal Coombs-McDaniel had been that player for this season and last.
“I’m trying to describe our relationship — stormy?” Calhoun asked. “Stormy is a good word.”
Things were a lot calmer between them Sunday night after the 6-foot-7 sophomore had career highs of 25 points and eight rebounds in the 10th-ranked Huskies’ 75-57 victory over Providence.
“Our relationship has definitely been stormy, but for the good,” Coombs-McDaniel said. “He’s a competitive guy and I am, too. It’s definitely been tough. I just chose to stick with it. Sulking didn’t do any good so I’m striving to continue to play and get better and get some minutes on the court.”
He played 25 minutes — another career high — and finished 10 of 17 from the field. Coombs-McDaniel, whose previous career highs were 13 points and seven rebounds, came into the game averaging 4.5 points. He had more than double that in the first half when he had 10 points as the Huskies took a 33-30 lead.
“They were worried about Kemba and I found myself with a lot of easy baskets around the rim,” Coombs-McDaniel said.
Kemba Walker is the player who is supposed to have gaudy numbers for the Huskies (19-5, 7-5). He entered second in the Big East in scoring at 22.9 points per game.
He rubbed Coombs-McDaniel’s head several times after the non-scorer scored.
“He’s been through a lot. He and Coach have had some differences and Coach always tells him he believes in him,” Walker said. “Coach loves Jamal, believe it or not. They always get into arguments and stuff because they’re both so competitive and Coach always tells him that. He played well tonight. I’m happy for him.”
The Huskies needed someone to step up because they came into this game having lost three of four, including two home games.
“I was really nervous about this game because we haven’t been shooting or scoring very well and we were facing a team that was,” Calhoun said.
Walker and Coombs-McDaniel scored all the points in a late 12-0 run that ended any thought of Providence continuing their recent domination of Connecticut.
Walker was 7 of 10 from the field and had six rebounds and seven assists.
Marshon Brooks, the Big East’s leading scorer at 24.1 per game, finished with 25 on 7-of-22 shooting including missing seven of eight 3-point attempts.
The Friars (14-11, 3-9), who have lost three of four, had won four of the last five and six of the last nine games against the Huskies.
“Tonight they played a great second half,” coach Keno Davis said. “Both teams battled in the first half and it was hard to get a flow going. The second half really exposed some weaknesses in our team and we weren’t able to respond. When they get it going they can beat anybody.”
Connecticut struggled to score during its recent funk, facing a zone defense in each game. The Huskies had shot better than 40 percent in just one of their last four games, dragging their season mark to 42.6 percent, 14th in the 16-team conference.
They shot 59.3 percent (16 of 27) in the second half against Providence when they took control of the game. After shooting 1 of 7 from 3-point range in the first half, Connecticut made six of nine shots from beyond the arc in the second.
Davis said he did want to play some zone and hope the Huskies’ slump against it continued.
“It was our plan to play more zone than man, but I thought the best thing from watching Connecticut was to start in man to man and then go zone. I thought we played well in stretches and didn’t want to change. We played real well defensively in the first half and when we went to zone they made a couple of key shots and then when you’re down 10, 12 it’s tough to stay in a zone.”
Providence played without freshman guard Gerard Coleman, who didn’t play for “failure to fulfill his responsibilities as a student-athlete,” the school said in a statement released before the game.
Walker, a player prominently mentioned for postseason honors, shot 29.5 percent from the field over his last five games and averaged 15.2 points in that span.
“It felt good just to be back. I haven’t been myself lately,” Walker said. “I brought the energy, played hard and things went well for me. I was relieved.”
So is Coombs-McDaniel.
“I’m going to keep working and hopefully things will keep happening like this,” he said. “Everyone contributed and the more things come together the better our team is going to be.”
Calhoun said the one thing Coombs-McDaniel does is he “comes in and gives us a spark and plays hard.”
Providence dropped to 2-4 against ranked teams this season. The Friars have home wins over Louisville and Villanova.