SEATTLE - Connecticut was unbeaten, yet the Huskies were also unproven.
Not anymore. Not after relentless A.J. Price and Connecticut rallied to create March-like madness in December.
Price scored a season-high 24 points — including the improbable 3-pointer that sent the game into overtime — and Jerome Dyson scored six of his 21 points in the extra period to rally No. 2 Connecticut to a wild, 88-83 victory over eighth-ranked Gonzaga on Saturday.
Price, the Huskies’ senior leader back from knee surgery, took over late and brought his teammates with him by handing out a career-high 10 assists. He led UConn (10-0) from 11 down with 12 minutes remaining inside sold-out KeyArena.
“This game assured me of our toughness,” Price said, knowing only two opponents had come within a dozen points of UConn before this. “Being able to battle adversity, down 11 in the second half on the road, and come back? We are tough.”
The raucous scene reminded Seattle what big-time basketball was like in KeyArena before the NBA’s SuperSonics became awful, then moved to Oklahoma City last summer.
It reminded many Huskies of the NCAA tournament.
“It had the atmosphere of a March Madness,” said Price, who is motivated by the stinging taste of a first-round loss to San Diego in the NCAAs last March, and by the scars from knee surgery following an injury in that game.
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun has coached 1,121 college games, more than any other active major college coach. But for him, this one of huge momentum swings and dueling rallies amid bedlam was unique — and not because it was just UConn’s second regular-season game on the West Coast in 10 years.
“Just a phenomenal basketball game to be associated with,” said Calhoun, before celebrating win No. 784 by flying to California with his children and grandchildren for a pre-Christmas holiday.
“Quite frankly, when you get in game like that, it comes down to heart.”
Not that Gonzaga lacked any.
Steven Gray scored a career-high 23 points for the Bulldogs (8-2) in their annual game in Seattle. They lost for the second time in three games but fought through the frustration and foul trouble of leading scorer Josh Heytvelt.
They ultimately lost starters Austin Daye, Matt Bouldin and Micah Downs to fouls as bigger Connecticut continually exploited its advantage inside.
The fifth starter, point guard Jeremy Pargo, was bothered by leg cramps during the second half. Yet Gonzaga still went on 20-8 run after the break to build a 57-46 lead.
“I’m proud. Our guys played their tails off,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “We used everybody we possibly had in the whole gym out there and had the craziest lineups we’ve never, ever had in practice.
“That’s what they can do to you. They can really physically take it out of you and put a lot of foul pressure on you.”
Gonzaga still led 72-70 with 1:44 left in regulation after two free throws by UConn’s Jeff Adrien. The Huskies then had the ball with less than a minute remaining and a chance to tie, but Gonzaga’s Daye tipped the inbounds from Price into the air and then fired the ball off Price out of bounds for a heady turnover.
But then Pargo threw it away to Gavin Edwards near midcourt on a long pass attempt, dooming Gonzaga’s chance to clinch its first win over a team so highly ranked since an upset of No. 2 North Carolina two seasons ago.
Price made only one of two ensuing free throws with 33.1 seconds remaining to make it 72-71. Bouldin answered with two free throws with 24.7 seconds left to put Gonzaga ahead 74-71.
Then after an offensive rebound, Price made his hanging, forced 3-pointer with 7.8 seconds left with defender Pargo in his face and the crowd roaring at him.
Price pumped his fists in defiance after the shot, then stripped Pargo of the ball in the lane at the other end to force the overtime.
“I kind of knew then it was going to be our game,” Dyson said.
So did Gonzaga.
“When it went in, the first thing that came to mind was ’Oh my God,”’ Daye said.
The Huskies then decisively attacked Gonzaga’s depleted and soft inside. Behind Edwards and Dyson, who missed four minutes of the game with a twisted left knee that he said was throbbing afterward, UConn scored 10 of the first 13 points in overtime.
Edwards recovered from a poor night this week against Stonybrook with 14 points, a career-high 12 rebounds and a key steal late in regulation.
“He maybe came close to a record of getting yelled at during a game,” the 66-year-old Calhoun said. “He showed me how wrong I was.”
Edwards just shrugged.
“You just have to take everything he says to you with a grain of salt. He always yells at you until he turns purple,” Edwards said, smiling. “He’s always trying to help you.”
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