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Bouknight, Cole lift UConn to key 70-57 win over Georgetown

UConn cleaned up its sloppy play after a mess of a first half and ended up with a tidy road win on Tuesday.

Just what the Huskies need at this critical stage of the regular season.

A 70-57 victory over Georgetown at McDonough Arena in Washington, D.C., moved UConn to 11-6 overall, 8-6 in the Big East with three regular-season games remaining.

The Huskies regrouped and swept aside a tough loss at No. 8 Villanova on Saturday, overcoming some ugly offensive stretches by relying on hustle and a competitive heart. They've won three of their last four games.

"We were scrappy and really determined," coach Dan Hurley said. "I thought we learned some hard lessons from the Villanova game, where we didn't close out to shooters at the end of the shot clock, where we lost 50-50 balls. We didn't make those types of plays on Saturday against a team that is the ultimate at making those types of plays.

"We were much better that way today and it was the difference in the game for us because we were out of rhythm for a while there offensively."

Sophomore James Bouknight led the charge with 20 points and 10 rebounds while redshirt junior R.J. Cole scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half and added seven assists, six steals and five rebounds and didn't have a turnover.

In a game that pitted the Big East's top two rebounding teams, the Huskies dominated the boards, 46-30. Senior Isaiah Whaley and freshman Adama Sanogo each had seven rebounds.

They're well aware what's at stake.

"Our mentality going into each game is just kill or be killed," Bouknight said. "We know we've got to win. We just all want to win so bad. Everyone is holding everyone else accountable and we're just making sure we're staying on top of what we've got to do and just handle our business."

The Big East game remained tight in the second half until UConn broke free with an 11-2 run.

Sophomore Jalen Gaffney's free throw put the Huskies ahead for good, 45-44, with 10:25 left. Then Cole buried a short corner jumper and Bouknight's nifty pass set up Sanogo's inside basket for a 49-44 edge, forcing Georgetown to call a timeout.

The Huskies extended their run to build a 61-48 lead and finished off the Hoyas (7-11, 5-8).

Bouknight and Cole combined for 28 of the team's 45 points after intermission.

Despite the double-digit win, UConn was uncomfortable, especially offensively, for long stretches.

The Huskies got off to a sizzling start, scoring the game's first 10 points. They made six of their first seven shots and were active on the defensive end, forcing four early turnovers and blocking two shots.

Then they went cold and eventually trailed 26-25 at halftime.

Junior Tyrese Martin scored for a 22-14 edge, but that would be UConn's last field goal until Bouknight's dunk off an alley-oop pass from Cole with 27 seconds left. The Huskies went 12 for 34 from the field with 11 turnovers in the first half.

"Got off to a blistering start at both ends of the court," Hurley said. "Really jumped them. Just lost our way there the rest of the first half. It was obviously ugly offensively but we just hung in there defensively really through much of the second half until we were able to find a rhythm. The turnovers in the first half were just bizarre at times."

UConn settled down and did everything better in the second half and gradually took control. After intermission, the Huskies had only three turnovers and shot 56 percent. They converted 45 percent from the field overall.

"We stayed together and we knew we could win this game," Bouknight said. "We talked in huddles and we stayed positive throughout the whole game and we weathered the storms."

The Hoyas (7-11, 5-8) came into the game playing their best basketball of the season, winning four of their last six. But they shot just 36 percent from the field. Sophomore Qudus Wahab had 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Every win is vital for UConn, which is considered an NCAA tournament bubble team by some bracketologists.

"We're still competing to get in that top three if we win out," Hurley said about the Big East. "We've talked about that. We know the position that we're in relative to earning the honor to play in the NCAA tournament. These guys know these games are very important and there's pressure on us and we've got to come through."

The two teams meet again on March 5 in Storrs.

g.keefe@theday.com

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