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The Day – UConn returns to its favorite spot…Madison Square Garden…looking for a win

For the first time in nine years, UConn will return to its second home – Madison Square Garden in New York – to play a Big East regular season game.

You know, the place where the Huskies have played more games off their two home courts than any other place. Sunday’s noon game against St. John’s (Ch. 61) will be UConn’s 123rd at that building in program history. It’s the place where they celebrated seven Big East Tournament titles and scored an NCAA East Regional Elite Eight Tournament victory over Michigan State on a magical day in March when it seemed like everyone Connecticut State was coming forward to put down roots in its Huskies.

Perhaps playing in the world’s most famous arena again will inspire the No. 24 Huskies to shake off their recent funk — they’ve lost three of their last four games. They arrived in New York on Saturday after falling to No. 25 Xavier on Friday.

UConn (16-7, 7-5) is trying to climb out of a Big East standings pack that also includes Creighton (7-5), Marquette (8-6) and Xavier (7-6) and keep its slim hopes of fighting for a regular season title alive.

The Huskies will complete a demanding schedule that included four games in nine days. The Red Storm (13-10, 5-7) will be well rested and prepared, having last played on Tuesday.

The last time two teams met in Madison Square Garden was on February 6, 2013, a game won by St. John’s, 71-65.

St. John’s has caused problems for UConn, winning four of the last six meetings. The Huskies emerged with an 86-78 overtime win on Jan. 12 at Storrs, but blew an 11-point second-half lead and needed Adama Sanogo’s free throw with 1.3 seconds left. to force the extension.

It was the Sanogo Show, as second UConn finished with 26 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks.

Expect Sanogo to play a major role again, unless St. John’s aggressive defense doesn’t smother Sanogo like Xavier did on Friday. Sanogo had foul trouble early on, took just six shots and finished with 11 points in 25 minutes.

“He’s one of the best big players in the country,” coach Dan Hurley said recently. “We have to play backwards. We have to give him the ball all the time. The guy is a force.”

With opponents increasingly double with Sanogo, the Huskies sometimes have to look elsewhere to score.

This is where UConn’s depth, which is regularly touted as a team strength, is supposed to come into play.

Trouble is, the Huskies haven’t been able to consistently rely on reserves Jalen Gaffney (35.2%), Tyler Polley (35.6) and Jordan Hawkins (37.2), who are all shooting below 38 % from the field and average 12.7 points. in the Big East game.

“We have to make our bench work,” Hurley said recently. “I have to make these guys play better so that we are who we should be.”

Starters Andre Jackson and Isaiah Whaley have recently seen a drop in production. Jackson hasn’t scored in double figures the past seven games, averaging 5.1 points over that span, while Whaley has just 14 points over the past three games.

That puts more pressure on Sanogo, RJ Cole and Tyrese Martin, who combined to score 51 of the team’s 68 points against Xavier.

The Red Storm will get a huge boost if starting guard Posh Alexander, the Big East freshman and league co-defensive last season, is able to return. Alexander missed the last game with a sprained ankle. He is averaging 14.9 points, 5.2 assists and 2.5 steals, best in the league.

Junior Julian Champagnie, who scored a team-high 27 points against UConn in January, leads the Big East with 18.5 points per game.

St. John’s exploits a quick offense and plays with an attack dog mentality on defense. The Red Storm lead the Big East in scoring (79.3), ranking just ahead of UConn (77.6), assists (18.4) and steals (9.3) per game.

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