STORRS, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said he hadn't seen a Big East game like this for a few years -- quite a few.
His Huskies survived their first test as a top-ranked team in a bruising 66-50 victory over St. John's on Wednesday night. It was a physical contest from the opening tip and by the time the final buzzer sounded nearly 2½ hours later, there were 41 fouls, including two technicals and two ejections for fighting.
"It reminded me of a Big East game, probably back in the early '90s," said Calhoun, the recipient of one of the technicals. "[St. John's] took us out of our offense early, played us very physical and did not allow us to get into a flow."
Rudy Gay led the Huskies with 20 points, eight rebounds, five blocked shots and two steals. Josh Boone finished with eight rebounds and seven blocks as the Huskies were finally able to take advantage of a depleted Red Storm frontcourt late in the second
Forward Lamont Hamilton, who was coming off a career-high 24 points in a 55-50 upset over previously unbeaten Pittsburgh, was held to three points before fouling out late in the game. Just moments before, his teammate, 6-foot-10 Aaron Spears, was ejected for fighting along with UConn's Jeff Adrien.
"Once Spears was out and Hamilton fouled out, with the two bigs coming off the bench, we were going to have to try to go inside and that was key for us," Boone said.
Spears and Adrien will miss the next game in compliance with NCAA rules. UConn, meanwhile, has appealed the suspension and asked the league to review the tape.
"I don't even really remember what happened," Adrien said. "I just put my elbow back and I guess I hit him. It wasn't intentional. I was just playing hard."
Spears was not available for comment after the game.
The Huskies (17-1, 5-1) moved into the top spot in The Associated Press' poll on Monday, their first appearance at No. 1 since January 2004. The Red Storm (10-7, 3-3) were coming off two wins over ranked teams and gave UConn all it could handle for all
but the final nine minutes.
That's when Gay took over.
The Red Storm had pulled within 48-44 on Daryll Hill's baseline runner with 9:38 left. When the action shifted to the Huskies' end of the court, tempers flared. Adrien and Spears had to be separated and both coaches ran out onto the court.
The Huskies responded with a 15-4 run, finally taking a double-digit lead for the first time all night. Gay had seven points in the run, including two thunderous dunks. He also had a key steal and an assist. Rashad Anderson's 3-pointer with 4:35 left capped the run and gave the Huskies a 60-48 lead.
The ejections, said Gay, energized the Huskies.
"It kind of sparked us up. They pushed us to the limit and that's what every team is going to do, but we stayed in our stuff and did what we had to do," Gay said. "We're going to get wins that we don't like and I definitely think this is one of them."
Anderson finished with 12 points and three steals. The Huskies finished with a 42-37 edge on the boards.
Eugene Lawrence led the Red Storm with 17 points and Hill had 13.
Lawrence keyed a 9-2 run with his steal and coast-to-coast layup that gave the Red Storm a 31-28 lead with 7:02 left in the first half. The spurt included three free throws off UConn technical fouls. Calhoun was flagged for arguing a call and Lawrence made
both free throws. Hill capped the run, making one free throw after Gay was hit with a technical for getting tangled up with Phil Missere under the Huskies' basket.
The Huskies regained the lead with a 5-0 run in the closing minutes, but Hill drained a jumper at the buzzer to bring the Red Storm within 31-30.
"We're not in it for moral victories," St. John's coach Norm Roberts said. "We've got a good basketball team. We have to continue to get better. They have so many weapons, they can beat you in so many ways."