Huskies just can’t beat Creighton, falling again in key game

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The days of Ryan Kalkbrenner huffing and puffing on the pitch are long gone.

The 7-foot sophomore from Creighton showed boundless energy and emotion Wednesday night when his team needed him most, flailing his fist and letting out primal cries dunk after dunk as he wanted the Bluejays claim a 64-62 win over No. 18 Connecticut.

Kalkbrenner matched his career high with 22 points, scoring 20 in the second half as the Huskies tried to come back from 16 points.

Creighton’s Trey Alexander (23) takes on Connecticut’s Adama Sanogo (21) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, March 2, 2022 in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)

“UConn, they played hard. That’s their thing,” Kalkbrenner said. “For us to match their energy was going to be huge for us, and you could feel the energy coming from the crowd, and it was so easy to play hard for the next game.”

The Bluejays (20-9, 12-6 Big East) won for the seventh time in eight games and clinched a top-five seed and first-round bye in next week’s conference tournament.

UConn (21-8, 12-6) lost for the first time in six games and fell to 0-5 all-time against Creighton.

Arthur Kaluma (24) of Creighton takes on Isaiah Whaley (5) of Connecticut in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, March 2, 2022 in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)

“By digging a hole in the road like that early in the game, they brought it right to us,” Huskies coach Dan Hurley said. “We missed an incredible opportunity to get six straight Big East wins here with a chance to get our seventh at home and really go to New York on a roll.”

Kalkbrenner shot 9 of 12 in the second half, including five dunks, and played all 20 minutes. He played all but five during the game.

“Ryan has really worked hard on his conditioning,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Anyone who saw him play last year…twice on the court, he was tired. He really worked to get in shape for the United States (team) tryouts, and he added that the rest of this season.

Creighton Blue Crew members Theresa Yatchak of Milwaukee, Eva Kareneva of Maui, Clare Williams of Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Katie Engel of Davenport, Iowa, from left, cheer during team introductions before the game team NCAA college basketball against Connecticut on Wednesday, March 2, 2022, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)

The Huskies outscored the Bluejays 12-3 to open the second half and tied it 48-all when Jalen Gaffney stole Ryan Hawkins’ inbound pass and made a layup with 9:16 remaining.

It was then that Kalkbrenner took over. He scored six consecutive baskets – including four dunks – and Creighton never let the Huskies go forward.

None of his dunks were bigger than one on an Alex O’Connell feed to make it 60-55 with 1:02 to go.

Tyler Polley’s 3-pointer took the Huskies to 60-58 with 20 seconds left, and after O’Connell missed two free throws, RJ Cole drove for a layup to make it 62- 60 with seven seconds to go.

Creighton’s Ryan Kalkbrenner (11) attempts to rebound against Connecticut’s Adama Sanogo during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, March 2, 2022 in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)

Hawkins was fouled on the inbound pass and made both free throws with 6.1 seconds left to put the game away.

“We’ve had a lot of things that haven’t gone our way this season,” Hawkins said, “so for us to bounce back every time and be resilient enough not to flip over and die, that’s been very important for us. We have a ranked opponent coming to our gym and we are fighting for our season, so it’s really cool to see everyone coming together and being tough and brave and finding a way to win the game.

Arthur Kaluma had all of his 15 first-half points for Creighton and Hawkins added 13. Kalkbrenner grabbed 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double.

Connecticut coach Dan Hurley shouts from the sideline during the first half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Creighton Wednesday, March 2, 2022, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)

Cole led the Huskies with 20 points. Adama Sanogo had 13 points and 16 rebounds, and Tyrese Martin scored 11.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies’ 33.3 percent shooting was their worst in the first half as they went just 28.6 percent in the 59-55 loss to Creighton on Feb. 1. They improved to 48% in the second half, but it wasn’t good enough to come back from a big deficit.

Creighton: The team played its second game without injured point guard Ryan Nembhard and eliminated a Top 25 opponent for the fourth time this season. After winning both meetings with UConn, the Bluejays own the tiebreaker over the Huskies for third place in the Big East heading into their regular season finals.

NCAA BLUEJAYS HOPES

Creighton entered firmly into the NCAA Tournament bubble. McDermott said he thought the Bluejays would win or lose the rest of the way.

“How many bubble teams, or whatever they call us, have won at UConn and won at Marquette and won at St. John’s and beaten Villanova by 20? Nobody has that on their resume. So I thought we were already there.

HURT THE HAWKINS

UConn’s Jordan Hawkins limped off the field with about five minutes left in the first half and did not return. Hurley did not have an update on his status. Hawkins, who is averaging 15 minutes and six points per game, left Sunday’s game at Georgetown with concussion symptoms but was able to practice on Tuesday.

FOLLOWING

UConn hosts DePaul on Saturday.

Creighton hosts Seton Hall on Saturday.

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