The UConn seniors knew they were saying goodbye to Gampel Pavilion Wednesday night. Ray Allen can't be as certain about his future.
So to be safe, Allen left UConn fans with an indelible memory. If the junior swingman from Dalzell, S.C., doesn't return to UConn next season, there are 8,241 who can say they saw Allen score a career-high 39 points -- and bail the Huskies out of a jam.
Big East) to a 78-66 victory over Rutgers (9-16, 6-11).
UConn needed all of Allen's 22 second-half points to hold off a team that shot 68.2 percent in the first half, led 30-15 with seven minutes left before halftime, and got 27 points from guard Damon Santiago.
Allen's nine three-pointers broke his school record of eight set against Miami last season and tied the Big East record set by Dana Barros against Pittsburgh Jan. 7, 1989. Chris Smith's 37 points against St. John's in the 1991-92 season had been the highest for a UConn player at Gampel.
If Allen opts for the NBA next season, this will be remembered as his home-court curtain call.
``I'm not thinking of it like that,'' said Allen, whose previous high was 36 against UCLA in the NCAA West Regional final last season. ``But if it is, I'll think about the last time I did lace them up here and how the game went.''
Allen's final two points came on free throws with 17.3 seconds left as part of the crowd headed for the exits. Those who stayed chanted, ``One more year. One more year.'' Allen said the chant almost made him miss his free throws.
``The first thing that flashed through my mind was two years ago in the Civic Center,'' he said. ``We were playing St. John's, and they were screaming the same thing about Donyell [Marshall]. I was in awe because so many people wanted to see Donyell back.
``I was asking myself then if they thought it was [best] for him or for themselves. Then I looked at Donyell, and I realized that was a hard decision he had to make.''
That decision can wait. Allen was more concerned with helping his team stay on course for a No.
1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and a loss to Rutgers at home wouldn't have helped that cause.
``Tonight was a tough one,'' senior forward Rudy Johnson said. ``We had a lot of miscommunication on defense and left people open.''
Senior guard Doron Sheffer had 12 points and a career-high 12 assists, and senior center Travis Knight had nine points and 11 rebounds on Senior Night. But the Huskies didn't play the type of defense that has made them one of the toughest teams in the nation to shoot against.
``We played lousy,'' UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. ``We didn't play defense until about nine minutes to go in the game. That's when we turned the defense up. We haven't had many set shots shot against us recently. And that's what was being done.
``We're giving up 38 percent, and all of a sudden we're giving up 68 percent in a half. They were just making open jump shots.''
Even with their fine first-half offensive showing, the Scarlet Knights trailed 39-37 as UConn outscored Rutgers 24-7 in the final 6 minutes, 30 secondsof the half.
``I'm very proud of my team,'' Rutgers coach Bob Wenzel said. ``To come out and jump on them right away was very important. . . . Ray Allen is a superstar player who is destined for great things. He made some incredible shots and just carried them.''
Rutgers kept the game close by executing well in a variety of zones. But Allen, who shot 13-for-22, including9-for-14 from three-point range, got some open shots against the zone.
``I was very surprised,'' Allen said. ``I felt like my freshman year, when I was wide open down there and nobody was hedging over on me. There's always been somebody right there, and you can hear the other coach on the sideline: `Don't move off of him.' But when we penetrated, their guys helped in and I was open.''
Thirteen of the first 17 fouls were called against UConn. The crowd was all over the officials with about 10 minutes left when Knight was thrown away from an offensive rebound by Andrew Kolbasovsky, leading to a fastbreak dunk by Johnny McCrimmon that gave the Knights a 53-52 lead.
But Allen, as he was all night, was there to lift the Huskies. His three- pointer with 10:02 left gave UConn a 55-53 lead. UConn trailed once after that, when Santiago hit a scoop shot with 7:47 left to make it 58-57. Allen responded with his seventh three-pointer 11 seconds later to start an 11-0 run.
``It was a pleasure to watch the best player in the league play for us,'' Calhoun said. ``Ray was special, as he has been all year. He was special after Georgetown [when Allen scored 13 points], and I think he was very special after this game. I judge seasons on seasons; not one game.''
Feb. 29, 1996: Ray Allen Scores Career-High 39
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