While it needs help to bolster its conference title hopes, Marquette still has a chance for its best Big East finish and a coveted double bye into the tournament quarterfinals.
The 12th-ranked Golden Eagles will try to move a step closer to achieving those goals during a visit to Connecticut on Saturday afternoon.Marquette (21-5, 10-3) is 2 1/2 games behind Syracuse with five remaining, but the Golden Eagles are likely equally focused on the teams below them in the standings.They're tied with Notre Dame for second, but only one game ahead of Georgetown and South Florida. The top four teams get the double bye, meaning it only takes three victories to claim the Big East tournament title.Marquette's best Big East finish was a fourth-place showing in its inaugural 2005-06 season, but that was three years before the conference tournament expanded to include all 16 teams.The Golden Eagles will try to help their chances of topping that finish by sending Connecticut (16-9, 6-7) to its ninth loss in 13 games, but they could use a better start to this contest.Marquette fell behind by 12 points in the first five minutes against Cincinnati last Saturday before taking over by scoring 25 points off 14 turnovers en route to a 95-78 win.Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder each scored 23 points for Marquette, which also trailed by double digits in the first halves of four other Big East games."Our defense does create offense for us when we're flowing pretty good," coach Buzz Williams said. "We can't win any other way than our defense helping our offense."The Golden Eagles will try to use that pressing defense against a Huskies squad that's struggled for consistent offensive production throughout much of 2012. Before an 80-54 win over DePaul on Wednesday, Connecticut was averaging 60.5 points on 40.4 percent shooting over its 11 previous games. The Huskies, though, did play well at No. 2 Syracuse last Saturday before the Orange pulled away for an 85-67 win.The Huskies had averaged 74.6 points while shooting 49.6 percent during their 12-1 start."I thought (the win over DePaul) was a carryover of the effort we gave at Syracuse," said associate head coach George Blaney, who improved to 2-2 in place of Jim Calhoun.Calhoun will miss this game and Monday's contest at Villanova as he recovers from spinal stenosis, and UConn has had trouble with Marquette during previous home matchups.The Golden Eagles have won three of their four all-time visits to Connecticut, including each of the past two. They needed overtime to prevail 74-67 last season over the then-No. 14 Huskies, and Johnson-Odom scored nine of his 17 points in the extra period.Connecticut, though, earned a 76-68 victory at the Bradley Center on Jan. 25, 2011, as Jeremy Lamb scored 24 points. The sophomore swingman is averaging a team-best 17.2 this season and Shabazz Napier seems like he's emerging from his recent shooting struggles.The sophomore guard has made 9 of 18 shots his last two games after going 10 for 51 his previous five.The Golden Eagles, meanwhile, might not have power forward Davante Gardner for the fifth straight game because of a sprained left knee. Vander Blue has tried to help make up for his absence by averaging 14.5 points and 6.3 rebounds over the last four games.The sophomore guard was averaging 7.7 points and 4.0 rebounds in his first 22 contests this season.