NEW YORK (AP) — Playing in front of a packed house, heavy on Huskies fans, fourth-seeded UConn looked like the favorite to win the Big East Tournament — at least for a while.
Jordan Hawkins scored 19 points and No. 11 UConn held off a furious, second-half rally to beat Providence 73-66 on Thursday in the Big East quarterfinals.
The Huskies (25-7) advanced to face top-seeded Marquette in Friday night’s semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
UConn led by as many as 26 with 12:30 left against the Friars.
“For like 28, 30 minutes, we were the best version of ourselves,” coach Dan Hurley said.
The Friars (21-11) turned up the pressure and had the lead down to five several times in the final few minutes.
“I’m really proud of how we responded,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “A lot of teams that would have been a 35-, 40-point loss.”
Alex Karaban made a 3 from the wing for UConn with a minute left to push the lead to 71-63. Noah Locke (14 points) responded with a 3 for Providence to cut the deficit back to five, but the Friars didn’t score again as UConn pushed its winning streak to six games.
“Tell me a team in America playing better than the team we just played?” Cooley said.
The Huskies will be making their third straight Big East Tournament semifinal appearance since rejoining the conference in 2020-21. They have won this tournament seven times, second only to Georgetown’s eight, but they have not played in the championship game since 2011.
Bryce Hopkins scored 16 points to lead fifth-seeded Providence, which has lost three straight and four of five.
The first Big East Tournament meeting since 1998 between two of the conference’s original members was indicative of their recent trajectories for the 33 minutes.
The Huskies got contributions from up and down the lineup and found good looks all over the floor.
Andre Jackson Jr. had an active all-around game with nine points, 11 rebounds and six assists and Tristen Newton scored 16 points with four 3s.
Providence was a step behind on defense and settling for 3s that weren’t going in (6 for 23).
Jackson’s transition dunk sparked an 8-1 closing run in the first half for UConn and 3s by Karaban and Newton started the second half as the Huskies lead reached 21 before many even had time to settle back into their seats.
Jackson turned a Providence giveaway into another fast-break dunk that made it 47-23 with 16:23 left. Cooley called a timeout to try to slow down the Huskies and regroup his team.
Providence managed to whittle the lead to five with 3:33 left, its press rattling the Huskies. UConn turned it over 18 times.
“They feasted off our mistakes,” Hawkins said.
Locke’s corner 3 for the Friars was followed by a steal in the backcourt and layup by Corey Floyd that made it 63-58 and forced Hurley into a timeout as Providence fans came to life.
Cooley came out of the timeout waving his arms to urge on the crowd and try to get his team all the way back.
But it was UConn that responded. Hawkins made a long 3 that reawakened the UConn fans.
“You just got to stay composed in that situation, stay with your team, stay in that tight huddle and just believe,” Hawkins said.
Providence: The Friars head to the postseason hopeful that the late-season skid won’t cost them an NCAA Tournament bid.
“We’ll sit back on Selection Sunday and see where the Friars are going,” Cooley said. “Don’t be surprised if you see us in the Final Four.”
Defense has been a problem. Four of Providence’s last five opponents — including UConn twice — have shot better than 50% from the field.
UConn: The Huskies have won nine of 10 and, despite their seed, look like they could be the favorites to win this tournament.
SENDING A MESSAGE
Newton usually starts, but he came off the bench Thursday.
Hurley didn’t get into specifics, saying only he wanted to send a “small message” to Newton and fellow senior guard Nahiem Alleyne, who is usually the first guard off the bench but was last man in the rotation against Providence.
“Whether you’re playing for the Big East Tournament or a regular-season game, you’ve got to have principles and try to teach some larger lessons,” Hurley said.
Newton had seven assists and made two free throws in the final minute to seal it for the Huskies.
Providence: A second straight NCAA Tournament appearance — probably.
UConn: The Huskies split with Marquette during the regular season, with each team winning at home.