Connecticut appears to be closing in on the AP's No. 1 ranking heading into Monday's showdown with one of the Big East's undefeated teams.
First, the Huskies must avoid a letdown at home against Providence -- something they've failed to do in recent years.Second-ranked UConn looks to continue its surge and avoid losing a fifth straight home game to the Friars when they meet Saturday at Gampel Pavilion.The Huskies (19-1, 8-1) have never been ranked lower than fifth in the AP poll this season, and made a strong case for the top spot with Wednesday's 71-49 victory at DePaul, coupled with No. 1 Duke's loss.While a No. 1 ranking is a nice designation, UConn is more concerned with winning the Big East and making a run for the national championship."I think we have a chance if we just tighten up a little bit and don't take plays off to be a special team," Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said.UConn, winner of eight straight games since losing its Big East opener to then-No. 11 Georgetown, is currently in third place in the Big East. Seventh-ranked Louisville is tied atop the conference with No. 8 Marquette at 7-0, and will be hosting the Huskies on Monday.Picked to win the Big East this season, UConn has finished in first or second place four times in the last six seasons, but has had little success against Providence (14-6, 6-2) in that span.The Huskies are 42-11 in home conference games since 2002-03, but four of those losses have come the Friars, who have finished in ninth place or lower in each of the past four seasons. UConn, which was ranked No. 4 in one of those losses (2004), has not defeated the Friars at home since a 67-56 victory on Feb. 5, 2002.This is the Huskies' longest current home losing streak against a conference foe, and this is the first time an opponent has won four straight road games versus UConn since St. John's won seven in a row from 1982-88.The Friars have won three straight and five of seven versus the Huskies overall, including an 85-76 home victory over a 13th-ranked UConn team on March 6 in the most recent meeting.Providence was picked to finish 10th in the Big East this season, but is tied with No. 3 Pittsburgh for fourth place. The Friars are off to their best conference start since opening 7-2 in 2000-01.Providence is coming off Wednesday's 100-94 victory over No. 15 Syracuse, its third straight victory since losing back-to-back games to top 15 teams Georgetown and Marquette.Sharaud Curry had a season-high 22 points Wednesday to lead the Friars, who shot 53.7 percent from the floor. They made 10-of-26 from beyond the arc and forced Syracuse to come out of its zone defense to challenge their 3-point shooters."When you're a 3-point shooting team and you can put three, four players on the court that can shoot from the outside, then you can get them to extend and get the ball inside more," said coach Keno Davis, whose Friars are second in the Big East with 443 3-point attempts.Providence will likely try a similar strategy against the Huskies, who like to clog the lane with 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet and 6-foot-7 forward Jeff Adrien.UConn is holding opponents to an average of 60.6 points and 28.2 percent shooting from 3-point range during its winning streak.Adrien leads the Huskies in scoring (14.2) and rebounding (10.3), and is averaging 15.7 points and 8.0 rebounds during UConn's three-game skid to Providence.Thabeet totaled 26 points and 16 boards in two games against the Friars last season.