February 28, 2015

While SMU's first winning streak in nearly two months would help it keep pace in the AAC, Connecticut could use one to recover from the blow its conference hopes suffered last week.

The 21st-ranked Mustangs desperately need a win to remain within arm's reach of their second consecutive regular season title, and they will try to grab one while extending their success against host Connecticut on Thursday night.

It wasn't long ago that SMU (21-3, 9-3 AAC) was off to the best start in school history at 18-0, lessening the sting of its ineligible status come postseason play. But the Mustangs have alternated wins and losses in their last six games, leaving them a half game back of league-leading Temple in a packed AAC race.

SMU is still the conference's top team offensively, averaging 79.4 points while shooting 50.1 percent, but its field-goal percentages for and against have squeezed closer together over the last three weeks.

The Mustangs shot 51.4 percent and held opponents to 39.3 through their first 18 games, but their accuracy has dropped to 46.6 percent in six since while opponents are shooting 43.7.

They are 2-3 in conference play in that time but did record a quality non-conference win on Saturday by topping West Coast Conference leader Gonzaga 69-60 at home. After Tulsa torched them on 58.5 percent shooting in their first home loss three days earlier, the Mustangs held the Bulldogs to 37.7 percent.

SMU is down to two players off its bench after Keith Frazier decided to transfer last month following his role in the NCAA investigation that led to the Mustangs' postseason ban.

"Trying to manage a short bench in games against really, really quality teams since Keith has left has been a real challenge," coach Larry Brown said. "Again, being around our kids and knowing how much they care about each other... they haven't even wavered. They just continually deal with adversity and try to make each game a special game."

Nic Moore is on a special run himself, and last week he was one of 35 players named to the Naismith Trophy watch list. The senior transfer from Illinois State is averaging a team-leading 16.7 points in his third season with the Mustangs.

The 5-foot-9 point guard made 10 of 17 shots and 6 of 10 3-pointers en route to a season-high 27 points in last week's 82-77 loss to the Golden Hurricane and followed with his first double-double of the season with 25 points and 11 assists against Gonzaga.

Moore has averaged 13 points in five career games against Connecticut, though he shot just 25 percent while averaging 10 as SMU won two of three games in this series last season - including a 62-54 win in the AAC title game.

The Huskies (18-7, 8-4) are also in the mix toward the top of the conference race, but they blew a golden opportunity in last week's 63-58 loss at Temple. UConn led by 12 with under six minutes to play but was outscored 21-4 down the stretch.

The same scenario almost unfolded in Saturday's 75-73 win over Tulsa, though five Huskies scored in double figures to help them hold on to a 20-point lead in the second half and improve to 12-2 at home.

''When we've got our foot on somebody's neck, we've got to continue to keep punishing them,'' said Daniel Hamilton, who has averaged 12.3 points and 12.3 rebounds the last four games. ''I think we let the foot off the gas (Saturday).''

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