Its confidence shaken after losses in three of the last four games, Connecticut tries to regroup Saturday as it faces St. John's at Madison Square Garden in a key Big East game for the young Huskies.
With 13 freshmen and sophomores, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun opted to play exclusively at home before entering conference play as a means of building confidence for his team. But that strategy may have backfired as the 24th-ranked Huskies (12-3, 1-2) have struggled of late.Calhoun watched his team absorb a 73-69 loss Wednesday to Marquette that ended Connecticut's 31-game home win streak, and the Hall of Fame coach suggested his young squad may have regressed in defeats to then-No. 14 LSU and the Golden Eagles in its last two outings."It's very discouraging we can't score and for the second game in a row we had the will of a team imposed on us," Calhoun said. "Leadership is a problem. Focus is a problem. We haven't developed into a team. I still think we can be good but we have to execute better. We took a ton of shots in the paint that turned into nothing."Despite playing a guard-oriented team, the Huskies were outrebounded 50-39 and outscored 38-22 in the paint Wednesday. They also shot just 31.7 percent from the field -- missing many shots in close -- and committed 21 turnovers."There were a ton of shots in the paint that we turned into some very strange plays," Calhoun said. "Some of the stuff I had never seen before. I still think that we can be good, but we're going to have to be tougher, we're going to have to execute better, and we're going to have to make a couple of layups occasionally."With a contest at No. 7 Pittsburgh looming on Tuesday, the Huskies -- who have not lost three in a row since Jan. 13-30, 2001 -- are viewing this as a critical game."We are looking at St. John's as a must win," freshman guard Doug Wiggins said.St. John's (10-6, 1-2) has also lost three of its last four after a 79-63 defeat at Seton Hall on Thursday. Anthony Mason Jr. matched a career high with 22 points and Lamont Hamilton added 13 for the Red Storm, whose offensive woes continued for a fifth straight game.The Red Storm have averaged just 53.8 points in their last five, shooting only 26.4 percent from 3-point range and 36.9 percent overall in that span. Mason had scored just 21 points in the previous four games before reaching double figures for the first time since Dec. 23.St. John's has lost six straight to ranked opponents since a 55-50 win over then-No. 9 Pittsburgh last Jan. 21.The Red Storm -- who lead the all-time series 32-23 -- have lost five straight to the Huskies since an 85-83 overtime win on Feb. 9, 2002, and have not beaten a ranked Connecticut team since an 80-70 victory in the 2000 Big East tournament.Connecticut is 8-8 against St. John's at Madison Square Garden.