St. John's basketball needs to play 'almost perfect' to defeat No. 1 UConn

The St. John's basketball team is looking for its best performance of the season against No. 1 UConn
Jan 20, 2024; New York, New York, USA;  St. John's Red Storm center Joel Soriano (11) celebrates
Jan 20, 2024; New York, New York, USA; St. John's Red Storm center Joel Soriano (11) celebrates / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

UConn has not lost at full strength this season and the St. John's basketball team knows what it's up against on Saturday afternoon (12:00 p.m. ET., FOX).

The Huskies fell by four points, 69-65, in early December inside Allen Fieldhouse against then No. 5 Kansas without star freshman Stephon Castle and a few weeks later on the road against Seton Hall in which Donovan Clingan was lost due to a foot injury.

"We know it will take a gigantic effort," Rick Pitino said on Friday morning.

"We have to make 3-[pointers], stop 3-[pointers], keep them off the backboard, keep them out of transition. You have to play a game that's almost perfect to beat a team like this."

The challenge of defeating No. 1 UConn (19-2, 9-1 Big East) gets more difficult with the return of the 7-foot-2 Clingan, who did not play in the first meeting between the two programs this season.

"They were good without him, now they are great with him," Pitino explained as he said that this version of Danny Hurley's team could be better than last year's team which won the National Championship.

The Huskies went 5-0 in Clingan's absence and have extended that winning streak to nine consecutive games after he returned to the lineup, averaging 9.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks in those four games.

"We have to play the best game of the season to beat a team like this because [UConn] doesn't have a weakness," the Hall of Famer added.

The crowd inside The Garden could also be a factor that the Red Storm must overcome.

The expectation is the game will sell out before tipoff and UConn fans have been known to represent their team very well in Manhattan. Rick Pitino is expecting it to be similar to a neutral court rather than a home court advantage for the Johnnies, which they have enjoyed in its last two games.

"This will be 9,500 St. John's fans and 9,500 Connecticut fans," he said.

"To play the No. 1 ranked team in the nation at the World's Most Famous Arena with a sellout crowd, we couldn't do it without Connecticut, so I'm very, very appreciative."

It all sets the stage for what should be a fascinating afternoon on 33rd & 7th.

It's a chance for St. John's (13-8, 5-5 Big East) to solidify its NCAA Tournament hopes and defeat the No. 1 team in the country on its home floor for the first time since beating Duke in 1978, and for UConn to continue its path to be the first team to defend its title since 2006-07.

The storylines coming out of Madison Square Garden on Saturday night will be massive. Buckle up.

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