Connecticut Huskies vs. St. John’s Red Storm Pick & Prediction MARCH 15th 2024

NEW YORK — While UConn is dominating most opponents during its five-game winning streak, no other Big East team may be hotter than St. John’s.

In the semifinals of the conference tournament for the first time since 2000, fifth-seeded St. John’s will put its six-game winning streak on the line and will attempt to improve its standing for an NCAA Tournament berth on Friday night when it faces the top-seeded Huskies.

UConn, in turn, is seeking its first trip to the Big East tournament championship game since Kemba Walker’s magical run in 2011.

The second-ranked Huskies (29-3) probably are a lock to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but they have been foiled in the conference semifinals in the three seasons since returning to the Big East. UConn’s three semifinal losses were by a combined eight points, including last year’s 70-68 setback to Marquette.

Since absorbing an 85-66 setback at Creighton on Feb. 20, the Huskies are winning their games by an average of 20.4 points. The closest margins were a 74-67 victory at Marquette on March 6 and a 14-point win at Providence three days later.

UConn heads into Friday’s game after dominating the second half of its 87-60 win over ninth-seeded Xavier in the tournament quarterfinals on Thursday. The Huskies gave up the first 10 points and held a one-point lead at halftime before outscoring Xavier 53-27 in the final 20 minutes.

“A little bit of it was like raise your intensity level,” UConn coach Danny Hurley said. “This is a playoff game. When you’re trying to end the other team’s — either like their Big East career or their Big East season or you’re trying to end a team’s season, period, you’ve got to be absolutely on point.

Donovan Clingan scored 11 of his 13 points after halftime. Tristen Newton also scored 13 points as six players reached double figures for UConn, which shot 58.3 percent from the field.

St. John’s (20-12) is unbeaten since squandering a 12-point halftime lead against Seton Hall on Feb. 18. After the loss, Red Storm coach Rick Pitino singled out his players by name and bemoaned the school’s facilities while saying: “This is the most unenjoyable experience of my lifetime.”

Pitino apologized to his players a few days later.

St. John’s is averaging 88.8 points during its best run of the season.

“We told the guys, you gotta play your best basketball going into March,” Pitino said after a 91-72 win over Seton Hall on Thursday. “And we knew we had seven now, I think, six or seven, elimination games. And these guys rose to the occasion.”

St. John’s only win over a ranked team this season was 80-66 vs. Creighton on Feb. 25. The Red Storm hope to produce another strong showing after six players scored in double figures on Thursday.

RJ Luis Jr. scored 18 points, Jordan Dingle added 14 and Joel Soriano collected 14 points and 12 rebounds for St. John’s. The Red Storm shot 51.6 percent from the field, marking the fourth time they have shot at least 50 percent in the winning streak.

“It’s unbelievable feeling, man,” Soriano said. “We play on Friday night.”

The last time St. John’s played a conference tournament semifinal game was 2000. The Red Storm slipped past now-ACC school Miami 58-57 and then recorded an 80-70 victory over UConn for the title.

–Larry Fleisher, Field Level Media

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