Unranked, and in hindsight underrated, Connecticut stormed into the Maui Invitational and knocked off a pair of top-10 teams on its way to the championship. Now, the Huskies are out to prove a top-10 ranking of their own is well-deserved.
Seventh-ranked Connecticut hosts New Hampshire on Tuesday night in what coach Jim Calhoun said is one of the biggest games of the season.
"We have to validate what people think of us, it's quite that simple," Calhoun said. "I will remind them we were down three at the half to Vermont before we went to Maui. We have to keep getting better and we all have to be tuned in to that."
The Huskies rallied to defeat then-No. 2 Michigan State 70-67 in the Maui semifinals last Tuesday, then dominated then-No. 8 Kentucky 84-67 in the championship the following night.
Connecticut is coming off a disappointing 18-16 season in which it finished 7-11 in the Big East and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006-07. The Huskies went 3-5 against ranked opponents last season.
This week, Connecticut (5-0) made the biggest jump of any unranked team into the AP poll since 1989, when Kansas entered the rankings at No. 4 after winning the Preseason NIT.
"It's tough to imagine something like that even though everybody says they don't pay attention to the polls," Calhoun said.
Winning the tournament wasn't a surprise to Calhoun given his program's track record, despite having five freshmen in the rotation.
"This is a great step for us," Calhoun said. "It's letting people know that we are Connecticut, have been Connecticut for the past 20-something years and we think we're a pretty good basketball team."
Kemba Walker scored 90 points in three Maui Invitational games. The junior guard's 30.0 scoring average through five games leads the nation.
Walker scored 31 in a first-round win against Wichita State before netting 30 against the Spartans and 29 against the Wildcats. Those performances followed his 42-point showing against Vermont on Nov. 17.
"I wanted to show the world that we're still UConn," Walker said after beating Kentucky. "I was having a lot of fun."
However, Calhoun knows it's time to get serious with the Big East schedule beginning Dec. 27 against No. 3 Pittsburgh.
New Hampshire is 4-1 for the first time since 2004-05, and is coming off a 70-66 victory Saturday against Brown.
Senior center Dane Diliegro scored 23 points, including the winning layup with 2 seconds remaining.
Tyler Conley added 19 points for the Wildcats, who lead the America East Conference with 50.5 points per game allowed.
"Really, really good win for us," coach Bill Herrion said. "This time of year, non-conference, you're trying to win every game you can."
The task gets more difficult against Connecticut, which beat New Hampshire 86-44 in the teams' last meeting Dec. 18. 2005. This will be the 116th matchup between the schools.