- Roscoe Smith (22) plays defense for Connecticut during the first half of Thursday night's game. (Photo: Associated Press)
The Connecticut Huskies made a statement of intent Thursday night at the Verizon Center, trailing for only 29 seconds before burying the Bucknell Bison with a combination of hot shooting and solid defense. The final score was 81-52, but the final margin actually flattered the 14th-seeded Bison, as UConn led by as many as 41 points with eight and a half minutes to go in the second half.
Jim Calhoun's team, the No. 3 seed in the West Regional moves on to play the winner of the Cincinnati/Missouri match-up later tonight. That third round game will take place on Saturday back in Chinatown.
Connecticut got an early jump on proceedings, making five of their first six field goal attempts and opening up a 14-7 lead with four and a half minutes gone in the game. Initially, the Bison were able to keep the game somewhat close, with Bryson Johnson's three-pointer making the score 27-20 in favor of Connecticut with 7:54 left before halftime. But after Johnson's shot, the Bison wouldn't score another point until Mike Muscala's jumper with 31 seconds to play in the half made the score 39-22 to UConn.
In between Bucknell baskets, the Huskies' run consisted of a jumper from Kemba Walker and Roscoe Smith, a three-pointer by Jeremy Lamb, a layup by Walker, and a three-pointer by Shabazz Napier that gave UConn its biggest lead of the game at 39-20 with 1:51 to play before the intermission. In the meantime, Bucknell missed eight straight shots from the floor in a stretch that sealed the 14-seed's fate.
Improbably, the Huskies kept expanding their lead as the second half begin. Connecticut scored 23 of the second period's first 28 points and took a 73-32 lead on an Alex Oriakhi jumper with 8:35 to play in regulation.
Walker was the indispensable man for UConn, scoring 18 points and dishing 12 assists, a new Connecticut team record for the tournament. The old mark of 11 assists was also set in Washington, by Marcus Williams in the 2006 overtime loss to George Mason in the Elite Eight. Walker was joined in double figures by Smith (17 points) and Lamb (16 points). Muscala (14 points) and Johnson (11 points) were the only Bison to crack 10 points.