SPOKANE, Washington (Ticker) -- No. 5 seed Connecticut seeks its 11th straight NCAA Tournament first-round victory on Thursday when it takes on No. 12 Brigham Young in the South Region.
The Big East Conference tournament runners-up never have lost a first-round game under coach Jim Calhoun, going 10-0 since 1990. Last season, the Huskies opened with a 78-67 victory over Hampton en route to the East Regional finals, where they fell to eventual national champion Maryland.
Connecticut (21-9) was hard to figure at times this season, suffering disappointing home losses to Boston College and Providence while also posting a 37-point win at Boston College. But while the Huskies can be erratic, they have the talent to make an extended tournament run.
Connecticut is led by the duo of star guard Ben Gordon (19.5 ppg) and center Emeka Okafor (15.5 ppg, 11.0 rpg). However, Gordon occasionally lacks intensity and Okafor turned in a disappointing effort in UConn's 74-54 losss to Pittsburgh in the Big East championship game.
Gordon scored 13 points on just 5-of-18 shooting against the Panthers, while Okafor was pretty much a non-factor with only eight points. Pittsburgh wore down Connecticut in the second half, converting 20 Huskies' turnovers into 25 points.
Brigham Young (23-8) received an at-large berth after sharing the Mountain West Conference regular-season title with Utah. The Cougars lost to eventual champion Colorado State in overtime in the semifinals of the MWC tournament.
Much of the attention surrounding BYU heading into the NCAA Ttournament centers on an inexplicable gaffe by the NCAA selection committee, which slotted the Cougars into a sub-regional that feeds into a Friday-Sunday regional.
Due to their Mormon beliefs, the Cougars do not play games on Sunday. Should BYU win its first two games, it would be switched to the Midwest Regional, something that is unprecedented in NCAA history.
The Cougars are led by the trio of senior guard Travis Hansen (16.6 ppg), junior forward Mark Bigelow (14.0 ppg) and junior forward Rafael Araujo (12.1 ppg).
This contest shapes up as a contrast in styles as Connecticut will look to push the ball while Brigham Young likes to control tempo. The Cougars are 21-1 this season when holding their opponent under 70 points.
BYU coach Steve Cleveland and UConn mentor Jim Calhoun met for the first time at last year's Final Four. They ended up golfing together with their sons in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
The winner takes on Stanford or San Diego in the second round.