LAHAINA, Hawaii — Too much Rudy Gay spelled a 77-68 Connecticut victory over scrappy Arkansas in a spirited first-round game of the EA Sports Maui Invitational on Monday.
Gay, with an assortment of drives, dunks and outside shots, scored 28 points to help No. 3 UConn quell an Arkansas rally that had whittled a 55-38 deficit to 61-58 with under five minutes to play.
Ronnie Brewer scored a career-high 25 points for Arkansas, in addition to defending Gay quite a bit and making him earn his points.
After a Gay free throw and a breakaway layup by Josh Boone helped put Connecticut ahead 65-60, Gay made the shot of the young college basketball season.
From directly under the hoop, Gay somehow tossed the ball high off the glass with a spin while falling backward and it fell through for a 67-60 Huskies lead.
"I got poked in the eye and I think they broke my nose and popped it back in place," Gay joked about that play.
Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said simply, "That was a gift from God. Great players seem able to make plays like that, where you just shake your head."
Hogs coach Stan Heath said, "Rudy Gay was great in the open court, and he's hard to stop."
Darian Townes answered with two free throws for Arkansas, but Connecticut scored the next five points on a 3-pointer by Denham Brown and a driving left-handed layup by Boone to restore a 72-62 lead.
From there, it was a free throw parade, although Arkansas did get within 72-68 inside the final 30 seconds.
Calhoun said, "I thought this was a terrific win over a veteran Arkansas team. Obviously, Brewer is terrific. Arkansas' press hurt us, and it will probably be the same thing when we play against Arizona."
The Huskies (2-0) raced to an early 10-2 lead, with Brown setting the tone with three baskets and a defensive rebound.
Arkansas (1-1), with Brewer scoring nine first-half points, was able to pull within 38-34 by halftime, despite shooting 42.9 percent to Connecticut's 57.7 percent.
The Huskies outrebounded Arkansas 18-10 in the first half and 37-25 for the game.
"We didn't start the game the way we needed to," said Heath. "But I was really proud of the way our guys battled and battled. Some of the mistakes we made can be corrected."
Arkansas guard Jonathon Modica had seven of his 13 points but also had three turnovers in the first half. Connecticut held UA inside players Darian Townes and Charles Thomas to two points each in that half. Steven Hill came off the bench to score four first-half points on 2-of-2 shooting. He also was 2-for-2 in the second half and finished with eight points before fouling out late.
The Huskies looked to have put the game away with a 55-38 lead with 11 minutes, 41 seconds remaining, spiced by a Gay dunk.
But Arkansas launched its comeback with two fast-break buckets by Modica and a 3-pointer by Brewer to make the score 55-45, and the rest of the game got fairly frantic.
Eric Ferguson's three-point play got Arkansas within 59-54, after which Hill secured a defensive rebound and made a nice outlet pass to begin a fast break that ended with his follow shot for a 59-56 score.
Arkansas fans in the 2,400-seat Lahaina Civic Center raised the roof as Connecticut called a timeout with 5:34 left.
Gay righted UConn with two free throws, but Townes answered with a jumper for 61-58, before Hill fouled out with 4:25 to go.
With a smaller lineup, Arkansas could never get over the hump from there.
Calhoun said Connecticut's backcourt had trouble against Arkansas' press, and that the 23 turnovers by his team were too many.
Brewer, who guarded Gay down the stretch, said, "He's a great athlete. He can shoot the 3, take the ball to the basket and finish. I just tried to hold my own."
In turn, Gay said about Brewer, "He's a great player. I think he can score at any level, in any conference. He would be one of the best players in our conference. He's good."
Heath said Akansas would be hungry for a win today against Kansas.
"We can fix some of what we did wrong, as soon as today," Heath said. "We can get our butts back on defense better."
Rudy Gay puts up a shot against Arkansas' Darian Townes.
Ed Ferguson tries to elude UConn's Craig Austrie.
AP/Michael Conroy photo
UConn 77, Arkansas 68 (Final)
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