HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Halfway through the season, Connecticut continues to exceed even its own expectations.
Alex Oriakhi had 17 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots and the 10th-ranked Huskies returned to Big East play with a 67-53 victory over Rutgers on Tuesday night.
Kemba Walker finished with 18 points. The junior guard has led UConn in scoring in every game this season.
The Huskies (13-2, 2-2) were picked by the conference's coaches to finish 10th in the league this season and have five freshmen who see significant playing time. But they have already beaten Michigan State, No. 13 Kentucky and were coming off an 82-81 overtime win at No. 12 Texas on Saturday.
``We are way ahead. We are ahead of schedule I think,' Walker said. ``Guys bought in to what Coach Calhoun is trying to do with this program, and it's working out for us.'
The Huskies won their 10th straight against the Scarlet Knights (10-6, 1-3), who were led by Mike Poole's 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Walker came into the game as the nation's leading scorer averaging just under 26 points per game. He failed to reach 20 points for just the third time this season, but pulled down six rebounds.
Connecticut led 32-27 at halftime, then opened the second half on a 20-2 run to take control of the game.
``I thought we came out with a lot of intensity,' Walker said. ``We just play hard. We play with a lot of effort and that's all it was.'
The Huskies improved to 18-1 against the Scarlet Knights since Rutgers joined the Big East in 1995.
The Huskies held Rutgers without a field goal for the first 5 minutes of the second half, and the Scarlet Knights missed their first nine shots after intermission.
A driving layup by Walker and a jumper by Niels Giffey gave Connecticut a 52-29 lead, and put the game out of reach.
Rutgers coach Mike Rice said it almost looked like his team quit.
``You're going to get punched in the Big East every once in a while,' he said. ``You've got to fight back, and boy we just took the standing-8 count.'
Rutgers got off to a quick 5-0 lead, and Connecticut's fans, who have a tradition of not sitting down until UConn scores, were kept standing for over 3 minutes, until Walker hit a reverse layup.
Oriakhi tied it at 12 on a layup and free throw, and Connecticut took its first lead when he hit a jumper 2 minutes later.
Oriakhi had no trouble posting up on the smaller Gilvyda Biruta, forcing Rutgers into a zone defense.
The 6-foot-9 sophomore said Walker was telling his teammates to get the ball inside.
``That just gives me confidence when your point guard wants to get you the ball,' he said. ``He's obviously the best player on the team and one of the best scorers in the country, so when some of us can score points it just brings a little pressure off Kemba.'
The Scarlet Knights scored six straight points to take a 23-21 lead, before Jamal Coombs-McDaniel's second 3-pointer of the half put UConn back ahead for good.
UConn held Rutgers to 34.5 percent shooting.
``I'm very happy with where we are,' UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. ``I mean 13-2, I should be very happy, given the schedule that we have played.'
The Huskies won their last seven meetings over Rutgers by double digits.
Connecticut has 27 consecutive regular-season wins against the New York-area Big East schools - Rutgers, St. John's and Seton Hall.
The Associated Press News Service
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