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Marquette-Connecticut Has Been A Pretty Great Rivalry

Only nine meetings, all as members of the Big East, but there’s a lot of memorable games in that eight season run.

Connecticut v Marquette
Kemba Walker vs Jerel McNeal. Icons at each school, facing off on the court.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

If there have only been nine meetings between two teams and five of them can easily be called to mind with a nickname, then that is probably a pretty good series.

That’s Marquette-Connecticut in men’s basketball.

As I was preparing the preview for Tuesday’s game against the Huskies, I realized that this is the fifth straight school year where there are no undergraduates on Marquette’s campus who got to watch a Marquette-Connecticut game while they were in school. There’s been a whole mess of new Marquette fans created since the last time these two programs met, so it only makes sense to take a trip in the Wayback Machine and remind everyone exactly how electrifying the nine contests in eight seasons were.

Let’s jump right in, and boy howdy, did things get started with a bang back in the day......

January 3, 2006: Marquette 94, #2 Connecticut 79

aka “The Steve Novak Game”

This was not only the first ever meeting between the two teams, but it was also Marquette’s first ever league tilt as a member of the Big East. The Golden Eagles came into the game with a record of 10-3 on the season, including a home loss to Winthrop and fresh off a December 28th shelling of non-D1 Lewis. In the middle there, they had won the Great Alaska Shootout, but that was by way of wins over Eastern Washington, Oral Roberts, and a South Carolina team that would end up as a #3 seed in the NIT. It wasn’t a stellar resume for Tom Crean and his charges, but that’s the kind of thing that happens when you end up relying heavily on three freshmen in your first year in a league like the Big East.

Right out of the gate, they get to tangle with one of the big dogs in the league, and while they got the advantage of facing UConn at home, it wasn’t going to be easy. The Huskies started off the year as national title contenders and rolled into the Bradley Center with a record of 11-0 and a Maui Invitational championship in their back pocket.

And Steve Novak just absolutely hammered them right in the face.

The senior from Brown Deer posted what was then and is still now a Big East debut record 41 points, and in his free time on the night, he grabbed up 16 rebounds to go ahead and cement that as the best performance by a player in a Big East debut ever.

Our friends at UConn Husky Games have the game archived here.

January 10, 2007: Marquette 73, #24 Connecticut 69

Just over a year later, the Golden Eagles made their first ever trip to Storrs and the result was the same: MU knocked off a ranked UConn team. Marquette was 13-4 at the time, but was coming off back to back not good losses to start Big East play and had just dropped out of the AP poll after being ranked in the first nine editions of the poll. They kind of really needed a win, and beating a ranked Connecticut team riding a 31 game home winning streak at the time was not exactly the way you’d think that they would get it.

But they did, dropping the Huskies to 12-3 on the season and 1-2 in conference play. Jerel McNeal tossed in 19 points to lead the way, while Dominic James and Ousmane Barro both added 17. Barro actually had a double-double with 13 rebounds while tangling with 7’3” freshman Hasheem Thabeet starting opposite him.

The two teams went in opposite directions after this one, as UConn would finish the year at 17-14 and just 6-10 in the league while MU’s victory jumpstarted an eight game winning streak that helped propel the squad to a 10-6 mark in conference play and an NCAA tournament bid for the second straight season.

You can check out the action thanks to UConn Husky Games right here.

January 20, 2008: Connecticut 89, #13 Marquette 73

Well, the good times were bound to end eventually, and this time, the Huskies got their revenge on Marquette. In both of the first two meetings, it was the unranked Golden Eagles knocking off the ranked Huskies, but this time it went the other direction.

A.J. Price had 17 points and eight assists, while Hasheem Thabeet really had his way inside, going for 15 points, seven rebounds, and six blocks. Lazar Hayward led Marquette with 14 points, and Wesley Matthews chipped in 13.

Marquette would drop to 3-3 in Big East action after this one, but ended up winning eight of the next 10. They would finish 11-7 in the league and Tom Crean would end up getting his first NCAA tournament win since guiding Marquette to the Final Four in 2003. The win over MU started off a 10 game winning streak for Connecticut that moved them from 11-5 and 2-3 in the Big East to 21-5 and 10-3 and ranked — wait for it — #13 in the country.

Wind your way over to UConn Husky Games to check this one out, if you want.

February 25, 2009: #2 Connecticut 93, #8 Marquette 82

aka “The Dominic James Broke His Foot Game”

Preseason #2 Connecticut. Preseason #16 Marquette. Late season scheduled game in Marquette’s barn, and the Golden Eagles spent a long stretch building this one up into a sellout. The Huskies stayed in the top five of the AP poll all season, cresting up to #1 for three weeks before suffering a loss to then-#4 Pitt that bumped them back to #2 for this game. Marquette, under the guidance of first year head coach Buzz Williams started off the year 20-2, knocking off three top 25 ranked Big East foes to rise into the top 10 in the country and appear to be poised to challenge for at least a share of a Big East title in just their fourth year in the conference.

And then senior star guard Dominic James broke his foot less than four minutes into the game.

And Marquette still nearly won the damn game!

They would lead by as many as six at one point in the first half, as well as trail by as many as 10 before intermission. A.J. Price put Connecticut up 11 with 14:47 to go, and at this point, it seemed very obvious that Dominic James was not coming back into the game. Things looked bleak..... and yet two free throws from Wesley Matthews with 12:07 left put MU back out in front, 60-59.

Things teetered back and forth for a long while after that, but finally, an and-1 dunk from Stanley Robinson was probably the nail in the coffin with 4:28 to go. Sure, MU would cut it to three points two minutes later, but UConn immediately ran it back out to double digits.

A 26/4/5 line from Jerel McNeal led the day for Marquette, who went just seven deep even with James being lost with 36 minutes to go. UConn got a 19&10 from Robinson and a 14&15 from Hasheem Thabeet, but the big star of the day was Price, who shot 12-for-20 from the field, including a white hot 8-for-13 from long range to finish with 36 points. James had become one of the best defensive guards if not just in the Big East but maybe the entire country during that season, so you’d have to figure that he might have been a crucial loss given what Price was able to do.

It’s not a happy memory but it was a hell of a game even without James, and you can check out UConn Husky Games’ archive right here.

January 30, 2010: Marquette 70, #19 Connecticut 68

aka “The Jimmy Butler Winner Game”

Things were not going well for Marquette in Year 2 of the Buzz Williams era. The Three Amigos were gone, and the squad opened up the year with six straight wins before dropping eight of the next 13 games. That had them at 2-5 in the Big East and 11-8 overall, and a resounding win over Rutgers wasn’t really perking anyone’s spirits up heading into this game. UConn wasn’t having a particularly strong season, sitting at 13-7 and 3-4 in the Big East heading into this one after losing 81-66 to Providence in their most recent contest. Still, they were ranked, and this was in the XL Center, so things seemed to favor the home team as far as general trends go..... although a check of the records say that KenPom had this one pretty much as a coinflip.

This game maybe kind of was the start of the Team Bubble Watch movement. Marquette built a double digit lead in the first half, powered by 12 points from Jimmy Butler. Connecticut whittled that away to the point where Kemba Walker tied it with 8:07 to go, and things were back and forth the entire rest of the way. Lazar Hayward finished with 20 points and five rebounds, including a 4-for-8 performance behind the arc, but finished is the key word as he headed out of the game after his fifth foul with 1:51 to play and Marquette down two after Gavin Edwards sank the freebies off Hayward’s misfortune.

Butler drew a foul cutting to the rim on a feed from Maurice Acker and sank both free throws. UConn answered with a looooong three from Jerome Dyson after Butler emphatically rejected Walker at the rim. Under a minute left. Darius Johnson-Odom activated The Thing before it was a thing to get a foul from Dyson on a three, and sank all of them for the seventh tie of the game. Walker, who would become known for his late game heroics the next year, missed an off balance try in the lane on the other end, paving the way from Butler to drive to the right of the rim and sink a hanging baseline fadeaway with two seconds left to put MU out in front. A steal by David Cubillan on the inbound ended UConn’s chances.

That last second bucket by Butler gave him high scorer’s honors in the game with 21, adding that to his seven rebounds and the giant hug from Hayward afterwards. That moved MU to 4-5 in the league and it would be the second win in a nine out of 10 stretch for the Golden Eagles, including winning three straight games that were all on the road and all went to overtime. That run pushed MU into the NCAA tournament for the fifth straight season.

In a side note, this was one of the seemingly many times that Jim Calhoun somehow figured out a way to not coach UConn when they were facing Marquette.

You can relive the magic right here thanks to UConn Husky Games.

January 25, 2011: #5 Connecticut 76, Marquette 68

We enter the Anonymous Eagle era of the series, as this is the first game that was tackled by this here internet website. You can check out the recap right over thisaway. It’s, uh, not very positive about how things were going for Buzz Williams in Year 3 to that point.

That’s pretty fair if you look back at it. The loss dropped Marquette to 13-8 on the season and 4-4 in Big East play. Sure, you can say “but the Huskies were a top five team at the time, and losing by single digits isn’t that big of a deal!” Marquette was also leading 56-51 at home with under nine minutes to play and gave up a 15-1 run to tilt the thing in UConn’s favor at the end.

Jeremy Lamb was on fire for UConn, getting 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting including 3-for-4 from downtown. Marquette was led by a 21/8/3 performance by Jimmy Butler.

If you want to watch it, you can right here thanks to UConn Husky Games.

February 24, 2011: Marquette 74, #14 Connecticut 67 (OT)

aka “The DJO Forces OT Game”

We skipped out on talking about where the season went from there in the last game because this was the only time where Marquette and UConn played twice in a season, and this was the return bout in Hartford a month later. Things still weren’t going well for Marquette, as they went just 3-3 since losing to the Huskies, although they did get a big win over #9 Syracuse right after losing to UConn. Things completely fell apart for UConn after beating the Golden Eagles, as they lost four of their next seven to drop to 8-6 in the league and 20-6 overall. They had fallen out of the top 10 after debuting in the poll at #7 after beating #2 Michigan State and #8 Kentucky on back-to-back days in the Maui Invitational.

With Jim Calhoun missing again for the Huskies, Marquette marched into the Nutmeg State and came away with a win. I’ll turn it over to Mr. Kensington in the recap at the time:

When Jeremy Lamb made a wide open lay-up to put UConn up 8 with 10:21 to play, we all said in unison “this thing is over.”

Fortunately the team doesn’t think the same way. They still had a run left, and by the 4:25 mark this game was tied at 53. While most of us were doing our best impression of Randy Quaid in Major League 2, the boys on the floor were looking to win this thing. Trailing by two with 20 seconds left, Marquette double teamed Kemba Walker who made an ill-advised pass across the court. The pass was deflected by Darius Johnson-Odom, picked up by Dwight Buycks who got it back to DJO for the game tying lay-up, and we had bonus basketball in Hartford! The OT was all DJO all the time. He took the momentum from the game tying bucket and tore through the extra session with MU on his back. Finally.... Marquette has a resume road win.

This is underselling the layup by DJO to force overtime with five seconds left. I’d say go watch it, but the UConn Husky Games archive cuts off with 16 minutes left int he second half. Haters.

UPDATE: Thanks to @KylePTAgent, we’ve got the full game to watch right here!

DJO topped the score sheet for Marquette with 17 points, adding four rebounds and three assists, too. Jimmy Butler had 16 points and seven rebounds. Jae Crowder came off the bench (remember those days?) to add seven points, 11 rebounds, and three assists. Marquette was content to let Kemba Walker run free in this one, as he scored 27 to lead UConn, but it took him 27 shots to do it.

Marquette would muddle their way through the rest of the season, but this win was a big one relative to the Golden Eagles latching on to an NCAA tournament bid with a record of 20-14 and just 9-9 in Big East action. Luck of the draw gave MU favorable matchups and ta-da, that turned into Marquette’s first Sweet 16 appearances since 2003. UConn would bounce back with a win over Cincinnati, but lose their final two regular season games to finish at 21-9 and 9-9 in the conference........ and then they did not lose again. The Huskies won five games in five days to win the Big East tournament, including the legendary Cardiac Kemba stepback in the quarterfinals, and then mowed through the NCAA tournament as a #3 seed — went .500 in the conference and were the #9 in the BET — to win the whole shebang.

February 18, 2012: #12 Marquette 79, Connecticut 64

For the third consecutive year, Marquette beat UConn while George Blaney was steering the ship instead of Jim Calhoun. I told you it was weird that he kept missing the games.

Anyway, this one was pretty straight forward from beginning to end. Marquette never trailed after the opening three minutes, and I particularly liked this part from my recap from back in the day:

After Alex Oriakhi dunked to cut MU’s lead to 4, Buzz Williams called time out to regroup. That’s when Ryan Boatright’s brain shut down. He decided to follow Todd Mayo to the MU bench and trash talk at the Marquette freshman. Apparently he said a magic word or two because, as we found out when the ESPN broadcast returned from commercial, Boatright had been issued a technical foul. Johnson-Odom calmly hit both free throws, Jae Crowder hit one of his three second half three pointers, and BOOM, the lead was back to nine and Marquette was firmly in control of the momentum once again and wouldn’t let go.

Jae Crowder was in full “Where’s my POY trophy?” mode here, going 8-for-14 from the field and 4-for-7 from distance to finish with 29 points, 12 rebounds, and three steals. Darius Johnson-Odom added 24 points while hitting half of his eight long range attempts while Junior Cadougan dished eight assists.

Go check out the UConn Husky Game archive for the very fun video.

January 1, 2013: Marquette 82, Connecticut 76 (OT)

aka “The Wrong Way Overtime Game”

If you want to read the recap of this game, that’s here. That provides the full context for the Fire This Moron: Karl Hess Edition that Editor Emeritus Rubie Q published first. Let’s just be honest about what happened here: The refs screwed UConn out of the game. That’s not an opinion, by the way. That is based on the actual NCAA rulebook and a declaration from the Big East home office. UConn should have started off overtime up 71-69, and they did not. Sure, you’re saying “hey, Marquette won by six, two points doesn’t change anything!” Ah, but it does, as Marquette was up 74-72 on a three by Vander Blue when the clock rolled under a minute left to go.

ANYWAY, we’re ignoring two very important things here. 1) I spent this game absolutely terrified of Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier. The Huskies’ backcourt duo shot 16-for-33 in this one, including combining for 5-for-11 from long range and tallied 45 of UConn’s 76 points. 2) Junior Cadougan is an icon. Seconds after Boatright burned the clock down as far as he could before draining a contested (by Cadougan!) two to put UConn up three, Cadougan hustled it down the court, went to the right wing, dribbled himself into a rhythm, and ABSOLUTELY BURIED a three at the horn to force the extra session. It’s absolutely fantastic to watch, particularly if you know two things:

1) Cadougan shot just 23% from three for the season, and that make was one of just eight in Big East play for him.

2) Marquette had missed their last 14 attempts from long range in the game.

FUN FACT: While we were gently teasing Connecticut and Jim Calhoun for constantly ducking out against the Golden Eagles, Brad Autry served as MU’s head coach in this game. Buzz Williams was serving a one game suspension handed down by the Marquette administration for failure to monitor his program when an assistant handed out some free swag to a recruit. This was not an NCAA violation at the time, but within a year, it would be.

This game was on New Year’s Day amidst the planning for The Catholic Seven to kick the football schools out of the league, and came just 12 days after the horrifying loss on the road against Green Bay. Marquette would lose just four more times in the regular season, ultimately earning their first and to date only regular season Big East championship on their way to an Elite Eight appearance. This was the first year of Kevin Ollie’s tenure in Storrs, and UConn would ultimately go 20-10 and then sit out the postseason due to previous academic failures that led to a bad APR score.

You can watch Cadougan’s big shot as well as Marquette free throwing their way to victory in overtime right here thanks to the UConn Husky Games crew.