"Exhilarating Win"

HARTFORD, Conn. – After a Sunday morning practice session filled with four-letter words that would never be uttered during a Sunday morning church service, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun walked into his press conference at the XL Center Monday night and demonstrated a more extensive vocabulary.

This time around, the words Calhoun used showed precisely how pleased he was with UConn's 64-57 victory over West Virginia.

Calhoun started off by calling it "an inspiring win." Then he said, "It was exhilarating."

"There's no other word for it," Calhoun said. "When you've done this a few times, as I have, there are wins and there are good wins. And that's a terrific win for us, because [West Virginia is] really good."

The exhilarating part came in the final 11 minutes after No. 17 UConn (13-3, 3-2 Big East) fell behind West Virginia (12-5, 3-2) by 10 points. A left-handed hook shot by Deniz Kilicli (12 points) with 11:24 remaining gave the Mountaineers that 46-36 lead and it appeared UConn might be on its way to a third consecutive loss.

But the Huskies tightened up their defense, raised their level of play, and then made one outstanding offensive play after another to make a much-needed statement about their toughness. In road games against Seton Hall and Rutgers last week, the Huskies were punched but didn't punch back.

In Calhoun's world, that simply is not an acceptable response. That led to all the screaming and swearing Sunday in practice after a long and quiet bus ride home from Piscataway.

Monday night, the Huskies gave a proper reply.

"We had fire in our eyes," freshman center Andre Drummond said. "We were like, ‘We're not losing this game, no matter what. We're going to go out there and we're going to get this game.'

"As usual, I didn't really look [at the scoreboard] until a couple of minutes left in the game. I had a feeling that we were down by a few points. But I'm not going to look at the scoreboard because all it's going to do is bring us down. We just kept playing and we came out with a great win today."

Drummond, who scored only 14 points in the two losses in New Jersey, recorded his fifth double-double of the season with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Calhoun used the word "special" for this performance and it really was. Drummond was 9-for-11 from the field, had nine defensive boards, blocked three shots – including an exclamation block in the final seconds – and had two steals in 36 minutes.

He also guarded Kevin Jones, the leading scorer and rebounder in the Big East. Jones finished with 22 points but had a season-low five rebounds.

"[Drummond] was awesome, man," said freshman Ryan Boatright, who contributed seven points, four rebound and four assists. "The numbers he put up and the way he played tonight, that's a NBA performance right there. There's nothing more you can say. He showed heart, he showed drive and he wanted to win."

But Drummond wasn't alone. Guard Jeremy Lamb, roughed up on the Jersey trip, scored eight points in the first half but finished with a season-high 25. He was 9-for-17 from the field, a perfect 5-for-5 from the free throw line, had eight rebounds and three assists in 40 minutes.

"A couple of games ago, [Calhoun] told me everybody was going to be physical [with me]," said Lamb, who gave the Huskies the lead for good on a three-pointer that made it 51-48 . "They tried to do that today but my big men really set good screens for me and got me free. I was able to get open, get some open shots and get to rim a couple of times."

Point guard Shabazz Napier (eight assists, no points) found Lamb streaking to the rim for an alley oop that started UConn's comeback. Two free throws by Lamb and a 15-foot jumper by Tyler Olander trimmed West Virginia's lead to 46-42. Then the Huskies pulled within 48-46 on a baseline jumper by Drummond, followed by a Drummond dunk off a nice feed from Olander.

Calhoun praised all those plays but the one that he said was as "big as any" came from UConn's little Boatright – and it tied the score at 48. Near midcourt, Boatright stripped the ball from West Virginia guard Jabarie Hinds and took off for the hoop and a dunk that created a noise explosion from the crowd of 15,805.

"I was just thinking, ‘Make the basket,' " said Boatright, who won UConn's dunking contest at First Night back in October. "When I went up, I prepared for the contact. I knew if I got up high enough I was going to be able to dunk it. Once I went up, I felt I was high enough and just threw it down. I didn't want to put it on the backboard and give them a chance to block it."

Calhoun said the crowd response was special.

"We're down eight, we get it to six, and I though we were ahead by four," he said. "In the past we've had crowds here waiting for us to do things. The team feeds off that [energy]."

With the building rocking, the Huskies dug in on defense and got the job done. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said his players stopped running offense, UConn took away the Mountaineers' first option and "we didn't go to the second option."

"We were not making the right plays and making selfish plays at the end – everybody," Jones said. "I felt like I was forcing a lot of things. That's not really in my character, but I felt like I was doing what I need to do to help my team."

In the end, the Huskies had too much Drummond and too much Lamb for the Mountaineers. And with everyone else chipping in, the Huskies ended that two-game losing streak.

"I'm really proud of them," Calhoun said. "I'm proud of the way they played and came back. We hit a hump, as we have in the past in January. And I think we turned it around today."

UConnPlaybook.com intern Chris Hathaway contributed to this story.

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