HARTFORD – Tristen Newton was fully aware he needed one rebound to make UConn history.
His team made sure of it.
“Yeah, I knew I (needed one) when I was on the bench,” said Newton who became the first Huskies player ever to record two triple doubles in a season, while tying Shabazz Napier’s career program record. “It was during the timeout before that they told me I needed one more rebound. AK (Alex Karaban) boxed the dude out and I was able to get the rebound.”
Newton’s final rebound was a nice finishing touch on arguably UConn’s most impressive and dominant win of the season, an 87-72 triumph over No. 10 Marquette at a sold-out XL Center.
The senior transfer from East Carolina notched 12 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, and adding two steals. He was all over the place and the Golden Eagles had no answer.
“It feels great,” Newton said. “My teammates were going crazy hitting shots (12-of-23 from three), they were busting out after I was getting the rebounds, so I had the easy job of getting them the ball. All credit to them.”
After going scoreless in a rough home loss to St. John’s, Newton has turned it around in an emphatic way, scoring in double digits in all six games since, leading the No. 21 Huskies to a 4-2 mark in that stretch.
“I’ve been working hard in the gym and it’s great to see that pay off,” Newton said. “I’ve been playing with more energy. Playing with more energy results in better games. We needed this one bad.”
After the St. John’s loss, there were loud calls from the UConn fan base for a switch to be made in the starting lineup. UConn coach Dan Hurley even mentioned a potential change was coming. It never did. Hurley’s patience has proven to be the right move.
“Sometimes you’ve got to bottom out before you can turn (the corner),” Hurley said. “You’ve got to look in the mirror and make the decision (to get better). That’s just Tristen Newton growing up and deciding that he had to do more and had to play better, had to attack more, and take matters into his own hands.”
Jordan Hawkins, Newton’s backcourt mate, is in the midst of his best stretch of the season. On Tuesday, he scored a game-high 20 points, including five-of-eight from three to go along with six rebounds. He sees the potential in Newton and the ceiling this duo can reach.
“I tell him this every day, that we can be the best backcourt in the nation if we keep playing how we’re playing,” Hawkins said. “We need to keep getting guys open shots and get our own shots. He does a great job of creating for himself and his team.”
Along with the backcourt, the Huskies (19-6, 8-6 Big East) received 18 points and seven rebounds from Adama Sanogo, with Karaban and Nahiem Alleyne adding 13 apiece. After UConn ambushed the Golden Eagles in the first half, jumping out to a 32-12 lead, Marquette chipped away and got within 13 in the final seconds. It didn’t matter. Alleyne hitting a running three at the halftime buzzer to kill any momentum. This was UConn’s night and Marquette was not heard from again.
“I’ve always felt watching them that they have as talented as a team that there is in our league, as well-coached of a team, as good of a system, and as many guys that create problems and issues for you. They were in a good place to go get revenge against a team that beat them a month ago,” said Marquette coach Shaka Smart, whose team was led by Tyler Kolek’s 17 points.
“We played at a really high level for about 35 minutes,” noted Hurley. “That’s obviously enough to beat a really good team.”
The Huskies received multiple standing ovations and brought back memories of their dominating play from earlier in the season, notably from their championship run in the Phil Knight Invitational back in November.
“I was thrilled, really from start to finish” Hurley said. “It was great to play a complete game, from the first half defense to the rebounding domination (48-19). We had great balance scoring and I was thrilled with how the guys showed up for this one.”
After a tough January, in which the Huskies went 3-5, Hurley can see the light at the end of the tunnel. His Huskies travel to No. 23 Creighton on Saturday. Last month, UConn prevailed over the Blue Jays at home.
“We’ve had a bunch of really great wins against some really, really good teams,” Hurley said. “I’ve reminded our team that we’ve gone through our bad stretch that every good team in the country goes through. We’ve got a great chance over these last six regular season games to get our mojo back, get that confidence back and start to feel really good about ourselves. I feel we’re built for tournament play.”
That mojo was on display Tuesday night. A win Saturday would be a right step in the direction of showing it’s back for the long haul.