It took less than a year for former five-star recruit Mustapha Heron to make Connecticut feel the sting of letting a native son leave the state in order to play basketball at Auburn. Led by their high-scoring 6-5 sophomore guard, the Tigers will attempt to extend their winning streak to nine games and try to notch their first signature victory of the season Saturday when they host the Huskies.
Heron, who grew up about an hour away from the UConn campus and admittedly watched plenty of Huskies’ games as a youngster, put a bow on Auburn’s surprising 10-2 start last season when he scored 15 points - including a critical late free throw in overtime - and collected eight rebounds to power Auburn to a 70-67 triumph. The Tigers’ second-leading scorer was at it again Tuesday, draining a pair of late foul shots to cap a late run to finish with 16 points and eight boards en route to an 81-77 victory at Murray State. While Auburn will have the advantage of rest on its side, UConn should be plenty battle-tested after facing the likes of Oregon, Michigan State, Arkansas and Syracuse over the last month. The Huskies fell to 1-4 against power-conference foes Thursday, however, allowing No. 19 Arizona to score 16 of the game’s final 19 points in a 73-58 road defeat.
TV: 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
ABOUT CONNECTICUT (7-4): Leading scorers Jalen Adams (18.6 points) and Terry Larrier (15.8) account for 46.4 percent of the Huskies’ offense and combined for 31 points Thursday, but the duo was also responsible for six of the 15 turnovers from the starters and a third of the team’s 18 miscues overall. “We’ve got to take care of the ball. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board on that. We can’t let down our guard. We’ve got to capitalize when we’ve got them where we want them,” coach Kevin Ollie told the Hartford Courant. Sophomore guard Christian Vital (12.6), who committed four turnovers himself against Arizona, is UConn’s other double-digit scorer and averaging 17.8 points over his last five outings.
ABOUT AUBURN (10-1): Although he is the Tigers’ third-leading scorer, 5-10 sophomore Jared Harper (12.3 points, team-high 5.3 assists) is building a reputation of delivering in clutch situations, including a 22-point effort last year against UConn and scoring 11 of his 17 points over the final 4:01 on Tuesday. “I’ve always had the confidence to make plays late in the game. I’ve spent a lot of time in the gym. I trust myself and my teammates trust me,” Harper said after draining each of his three 3-point attempts over a two-plus minute stretch late. Leading scorer Bryce Brown (16.2) paces the SEC in 3-point attempts (94), but he has struggled to find his range over his last five outings, going 14-for-43 despite mixing in a 6-for-9 effort against UAB on Dec. 9.
1. Auburn is off to its best start since opening 16-1 during the 1999-2000 campaign.
2. After having Amida Brimah around to average at least 2.3 blocks in each of the past four seasons, no UConn player has more than nine total through 11 contests.
3. Brown has attempted at least seven 3-pointers in every game this season.
PREDICTION: Auburn 76, Connecticut 72