Connecticut was bigger, stronger and deeper. And, despite a valiant effort on Marquette's part, the Huskies were better than the Golden Eagles Wednesday night.
Using their size and the absence of Dominic James -- who left with a broken foot in the game's opening minutes -- to their advantage, the second-ranked Huskies pulled away over the game's final seven minutes for a 93-82 victory over No. 8 Marquette at the Bradley Center.
Jerel McNeal scored 26 points while Wesley Matthews added 20 and Lazar Hayward had 15 in a game that featured six ties and 16 lead changes.
The Golden Eagles (23-5, 12-3 Big East) took a one-point lead with just over seven minutes to play on McNeal's jumper that made it 74-73. After that, though, the Huskies (26-2, 14-2) scored 11 straight points and finished on a 20-9 run.
Eleven of those final points came at the free-throw line, where Connecticut had scored just seven points in the game's first 33 minutes.
"With the clock stopped, that's hard to overcome," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "They had three offensive rebounds during that stretch that turned into immediate points."
Coming in, Williams knew his team had its work cut out for it in containing Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet, a 7-foot-2 force in the paint who was averaging 4.4 blocks per game. The Golden Eagles limited Thabeet's offensive damage, holding him to 14 points; but he still managed 15 rebounds and five blocks.
Thabeet was good, not dominant. His teammate, A.J. Price, more than made up for that. Price led both teams with a career-high 36 points -- 24 of them from beyond the arc. He added six rebounds and six assists and always seemed to make a shot to kill a Golden Eagles rally.
"I think of what A.J. did and I think of Ben (Gordon), I think of Ray (Allen), I think of Richard (Hamilton) ... guys that could light up a gym." said UConn head coach Jim Calhoun. "That, in turn, allowed Hasheem to control the floor."
Connecticut's size advantage led to the most telling, and perhaps damning, stat of the night: the Huskies out-rebounded Marquette, 46-26 (16-11 on offensive rebounds) and held a 26-4 advantage on second-chance points.
The second-chance total was a season high for Connecticut.
"It wasn't our first-shot field goal percentage -- it never is -- but it was the second-shot percentage that killed us," Williams said. "In the second half, they whipped us."
The Golden Eagles couldn't buy a shot in the first half, connecting on just 12 of 36 attempts while Connecticut was shooting at a 55 percent clip. Trailing by 19-14 with 11:30 to play before halftime, Marquette went on a 16-3 run, capped off by Matthews' dunk that made it 28-22.
The Huskies recovered quickly, going on a 16-0 run that built a 10-point lead with less than 4 minutes in the half.
Behind hot shooting, Marquette cut into the deficit early in the second half and took a 60-59 lead with 12:07 to play on a pair of free throws by Matthews. The Golden Eagles hit eight of their first 11 field goals and shot 53 percent in the second, even with the drought to end the game.
"I thought our guys absolutely competed their guts out," Williams said. "They hung in there."
Losing the game was difficult for the Golden Eagles, who are now tied for third place in the Big East with games against Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse remaining. Those games were considered a brutal stretch already for Marquette, and the "gauntlet," as some have called it, is going to be all the more difficult to run without James, the team's third-leading scorer and the league's third-best assists man.
In his place, undersized Maurice Acker saw extended playing time and made the most of his career-high 33 minutes of work, finishing with four points.
"Dominic is one of the leaders on this team and in a big game like this, we needed everybody because this team is so fragile," Acker said. "It's a big one, but everybody will pick it up and we'll get ready for the next one."
Williams said there was no timetable yet for James to undergo surgery, but did say there was about a "100-day window for recovery and that he'd like it to happen sooner rather than later, with an obvious eye towards the NBA Draft in June.
Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles march on. Next up: a trip to Louisville to meet the No. 6 Cardinals Sunday afternoon.
"We will be accountable as a team -- as men -- for our work from this point forward despite the public perception of 'feel sorry for Marquette'," Williams said.
NOTES: The victory was the 800th of Calhoun's career. ... Acker recorded his first field goal since Jan. 4 against Cincinnati. ... The game was the first home game in MU history in which both teams were ranked in the top-10. ... Marquette's 17-game Bradley Center winning streak was snapped. ... Price's 36 points were the most scored by a Marquette opponent this season.