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UConn authors another riveting chapter in Georgetown rivalry

Hartford — It seemed just like the good ol' Big East days on Saturday afternoon.

UConn and Georgetown battled it out for 40 fiercely-competitive minutes before a raucous sold-out XL Center crowd of 15,564.

Only one team could survive, and that was the Huskies.

A 68-62 non-conference victory brought back memories of the two programs' storied rivalry and served a vital NCAA tournament resume-builder for UConn (14-5).

"We just played together the whole game and just gutted out a good victory," forward Shonn Miller said.

In the days leading up to the nationally-televised matinee, the Huskies heard about the history of the rivalry from coach Kevin Ollie, who competed in many UConn-Georgetown battles during his playing days.

UConn came out energized and in attack mode, building a 40-33 halftime lead and making all the big plays down the stretch in the highly-entertaining game. Neither team led by more than eight points.

"Coach Ollie gave us a speech just talking about how important this game is and how it goes back all the way back to even before we were born," senior Phil Nolan said. "We pretty much knew the significance of this game."

The game was decided from the foul line and on the defensive end.

The Huskies overcame an icy shooting stretch in the second half that saw them go just 4 for 21 (19 percent) by sinking 20 of 25 free throws. The American Athletic Conference's top free throw shooting team converted 29 of 36 overall, or 80.6 percent. The Hoyas (12-8) took just eight free throws, making seven.

They ended the game on an 8-0 run, taking the lead for good, 63-62, on Nolan's free throws with 2:44 left, and didn't allow a point in the final 4:32. The Hoyas converted 39 percent overall.

"We had good looks but we just didn't make them," said Ollie, whose team shot just 36 percent. "But our defense was strong and that's what we hang out hats on. It was just an unbelievable job by the players."

Junior Rodney Purvis supplied energy off the bench, contributing a game-high 17 points after scoring just eight in the previous two games. He also had a huge steal, picking off a pass with 18 seconds left and UConn leading 65-62. He cashed in on the other end with two free throws.

"I knew they were going back to (D'Vauntes) Smith-Rivera, whose one of my close friends," Purvis said. "He's a big-time player. ... I just tried to stay back. As soon as I saw the big (man) look towards him, I knew he was going to pass it to him and I went for the steal. I was lucky to get it."

There were numerous Husky heroes on Saturday.

Guard Sterling Gibbs helped get the Hoyas in foul trouble, drawing contact on drives through the lane. Nine of his 16 points came from the foul line. Miller finished with 15 points and seven rebounds while Daniel Hamilton added 11 points and eight rebounds.

Ollie raved about the defensive play of Nolan, whose contribution didn't show up in the box score.

After Purvis made two free throws for a 67-62 lead, Nolan drew a charging foul on L.J. Peak with 13.1 seconds left.

Nolan, one of UConn's most experienced players, never flinched when lining up his pressure-packed free throws at the 2:44 mark.

"To be honest, I didn't even think about it," Nolan said with a smile. "I've been around the block a little. This is my fourth year."

Ollie also gave a shoutout to the crowd, which stood on its feet and roared for the final few minutes.

"It gave me goosebumps a couple of times," he said. "It was electric the last three minutes. Even when in the second half when we couldn't make a shot (1-for-16 to start the half), they stood up and gave us a little lift. It was big time. It reminded me of the old days when I was playing."

Georgetown coach John Thompson III wasn't surprised by the atmosphere.

"This is a normal Big East game," Thompson said. "That's what Georgetown-Connecticut is about. I've not known any other atmosphere up here."

Now UConn heads back into American Athletic Conference play, hosting Cincinnati on Thursday in another big game.

Due to the storm, Georgetown stayed overnight in Connecticut. The Hoyas hope to return home to Washington, D.C., on Sunday.

g.keefe@theday.com

Twitter: @GavinKeefe

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