Connecticut Huskies vs. Marquette Golden Eagles Pick & Prediction MARCH 16th 2024

NEW YORK — A little over a year ago, Marquette was the last team to defeat UConn before the latter stormed its way to a fifth national title.

The Huskies didn’t lose again that season and dominated their way to the top of the Big East in 2023-24.

On Saturday, 10th-ranked Marquette is the opponent standing in the way of the second-ranked Huskies, who will seek their first Big East title since returning to the league in 2020.

The Huskies (30-3) took their first loss since the Marquette semifinal game when they fell by four points at Kansas on Dec. 1. They also are seeking their first conference tournament title since Kemba Walker’s magical run led them to five wins in five days in 2011.

The top-seeded Huskies are on a six-game winning streak and advanced to Saturday’s final thanks to a prolific offense. After scoring 87 in a 27-point win over ninth-seeded Xavier in Thursday’s quarterfinals, UConn was challenged at times in a 95-90 win over fifth-seeded St. John’s on Friday.

The Huskies are ready to face third-seeded Marquette (25-8), which claimed a 70-68 win over UConn in last season’s conference semifinals.

Tristen Newton scored 20 of his 25 points in UConn’s 52-point opening half Friday and added nine assists. Cam Spencer contributed 20 points and nine assists for the Huskies, who shot 57.4 percent from the floor, sank 11 3-pointerss and collected 23 assists.

“These are the environments that you want to play in,” Spencer said. “It’s a high-level basketball game, working towards something that we’ve worked for all year, and it’s — the Big East championship is something that we want to go get. Probably one of the highest, I guess, more intense games of this year, and rightfully so.”

Marquette is playing without Tyler Kolek due to an oblique injury. The guard could be out again for its second appearance in the title game, although he has begun practicing and is expected to play in the NCAA Tournament.

“We’ve played through a lot of adversity,” Marquette coach Shaka Smart said. “Obviously (Saturday) is going to a heck of a challenge for us.”

The Golden Eagles lost two of their final three regular-season games and opened the tournament with wins over Villanova and Providence. After allowing an average of 69.7 points a game during the regular season, the Golden Eagles allowed 65 and 68 in their tournament games and received clutch showings from Kam Jones and Oso Ighodaro.

Jones scored 23 points in Friday’s 79-68 win over the Friars and helped the Golden Eagles lead for virtually the entire way and fend off a late comeback attempt. Ighodaro added 20 vs. Providence after scoring his lone basket in overtime against Villanova on Thursday.

UConn dominated the first meeting against Marquette this season when the Huskies rolled to an 81-53 victory on Feb. 17 in Hartford, Conn. The Huskies held off a comeback attempt in their 74-67 win on March 6 in Milwaukee.

“Obviously UConn has some good players, has a good team,” Marquette’s Stevie Mitchell said. “So we’re obviously going to watch film, learn from previous games against them, and learn from this game and continue to move forward, but I think being the best version of ourselves is what we’re really focusing on the most.”

–Larry Fleisher, Field Level Media

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