— Senior Jeff Adrien
scored 22 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, while freshman Kemba Walker
(Bronx, N.Y.) scored 23 points off the bench to lead the No. 2 nationally-ranked University of Connecticut men’s basketball team to a 89-81 victory over La Salle University Friday in the opening round of the 2008 Paradise Jam at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center.
With the win, UConn advances to the semifinals to face Miami (Fla.) Sunday at 6:00 p.m. That game will be televised by the Fox College Sports Network and will also be broadcast on the UConn Radio Network anchored by WTIC-AM 1080.
Joining Adrien and Walker in double figures for the Huskies were junior Jerome Dyson (Rockville, Md.) with 17 points and senior A.J. Price (Amityville, N.Y.), who added 12 points on the night. Junior Hasheem Thabeet (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) added nine points, seven boards and five blocked shots.
A.J. Price knocked down a three with 6:57 to play to give UConn a nine-point lead at 70-61, the biggest of the contest to that point. The Explorers responded as they had all second half, cutting the deficit back to five points, 72-67, with 3:52 to play. The teams traded baskets until Adrien made a layup and then got a big defensive rebound at the other end and UConn led 76-69 with just over two minutes left in the game. Dyson then went to the line and made a pair of free throws to make the lead, 78-69, with 1:59 to go. La Salle got as close as six points in the final 1:45, but UConn got the defensive stops it needed to close out the contest.
La Salle cut the UConn lead to three, 62-59, with under nine minutes to go in the game and after forcing a UConn miss got the deficit to one, 62-61, on a goaltend call against Hasheem Thabeet. The Huskies got a pair of free throws from Dyson to get the lead back to three and then A.J. Price made a steal and was fouled intentionally as he broke away to the basket. Price made both to get the lead to five, 66-61 with 7:59 to go. On the ensuing possession, Thabeet was fouled as he went to the hoop and made one free throw to make the score 67-61.
UConn led by six at the half and were able to stretch it out to eight points in the early portion of the second half. The Explorers continued to battle and cut the deficit to one, 56-55, with 12:50 to play. The Huskies responded with a 6-0 burst capped by a Walker layup to force a La Salle timeout and make the lead 62-55 with just over ten minutes to play in the contest.
The Huskies trailed early by as many as seven points as the Explorers scored on seven of their first nine possessions of the contest. La Salle hit on ten of its first 17 shots from the field and led by a count of 23-19 with 11:42 to play in the first half. UConn tied the score at 23-23 on a Thabeet dunk and a pair of Adrien free throws with just over nine minutes to go. The Huskies then took their first lead at 25-23 when Kemba Walker went the length of the floor for a layup at just under the nine-minute mark. The Huskies finished the half with a spurt capped by a bucket by Adrien at the final horn to take a 46-40 lead, matching the biggest advantage of the half for UConn.