No. 6 Marquette and No. 11 UConn began their appearances in the Big East tournament by showcasing some inconsistencies while getting big performances from their stars.
Both teams were able to overcome their uneven showings. Now a trip to the Big East final is on the line Friday night when top-seeded Marquette faces fourth-seeded UConn in the semifinals in New York.
Picked to finish ninth in the Big East’s preseason poll, Marquette (26-6) is in the semis for the fourth time overall and first instance since 2019, when it was the second seed and lost 81-79 to Seton Hall.
The Golden Eagles are seeking their first trip to the Big East title game after extending their winning streak to seven with a hard-fought 72-70 overtime victory against St. John’s Thursday afternoon when it rallied from its largest deficit of the season.
Marquette overcame a 14-point deficit in the first half and 10 points down at halftime. Tyler Kolek scored all 19 of his points after halftime, including seven in overtime when he hit five free throws.
“We faced a lot of adversity today, and the guys stared down the adversity. They stayed connected,” Marquette coach Shaka Smart said.
Marquette advanced despite shooting 39.1 percent, its third-lowest percentage of the season. The Golden Eagles also withstood leading scorer Kam Jones being held to 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting from the floor.
“I wouldn’t say we’re inexperienced anymore just because of everything we’ve gone through this year, all the experiences we’ve had, all the close games we’ve won and lost,” Kolek said. “And that’s just made us better. I think coming into the postseason we’re as prepared as we can be.”
The Huskies (25-7) are in the conference semifinals for the third straight year since returning to the Big East. In 2021, UConn fell to Creighton 59-56 and last year it took a 63-60 loss to Villanova.
UConn’s path to the semifinals did not require a comeback but an ability to make enough plays. The Huskies advanced with a 73-66 victory over Providence in a game they held a 26-point lead with 12 1/2 minutes remaining and saw the margin reduced to five several times.
“We played unbelievable for 28 minutes,” Huskies coach Dan Hurley said. “They made an unbelievable run. And we won the game and we play tomorrow in the semifinals for the third year in a row. So, we’re happy about that.”
Jordan Hawkins scored 19, Tristen Newton added 16 points with four 3s and the Huskies shot 52.8 percent and overcame 18 turnovers.
UConn, which opened 14-0 before a midseason slump, is seeking its first trip to the title game since Kemba Walker’s dynamic run helped them win five games in five days in 2011.
The teams split both regular-season meetings with the home team winning each game.
In Marquette’s 82-76 win on Jan. 11 in Milwaukee, Oso Ighodaro scored 19 while Jones added all 15 of his points after halftime. In UConn’s 87-72 win on Feb. 7 in Hartford, Conn., the Huskies led by 17 at halftime as Hawkins led five in double figures with 20 points.
–Field Level Media