Having already secured the Big East regular-season championship and all but assured themselves of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, there was little for Connecticut to play for ahead of Saturday’s trip to Providence. Pride, passion and the possibility of earning the top overall seed in the Big Dance were about as tangible as the motivations could get.

The same could not be said of Providence, which entered the evening with a 19-11 overall record and a 10-9 mark in Big East play. The Friars were 61st in the NCAA NET rankings, 60th on KenPom and listed among the last four teams in the field by FOX Sports bracket forecaster Mike DeCourcy. They needed the win far more than UConn.

What unfolded at Amica Mutual Pavilion on Saturday night told a different story as the Huskies, beaten only once since Dec. 20, ransacked and ravaged Providence in a game that was never close in the second half. A monstrous run to close the opening stanza undercut a blazing start from the Friars to rob head coach Kim English of a win that might have secured an NCAA Tournament berth.

Instead, Connecticut rolled to a 74-60 win that left no doubt about the Huskies’ credentials to make another lengthy postseason run. Five players reached double-figure scoring, led by power forward Alex Karaban with 16, as UConn knocked down 11 3-pointers to leave Providence in the dust.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Breaking it open

At the 15:59 mark of the first half, a short jumper from Providence star Devin Carter gave the Friars a 15-2 lead. A raucous crowd frothed and foamed, knowing full well just what a snake pit that building has been for the Huskies. Five of Connecticut’s last six trips to the building ended in defeat.

What looked like a potential moment of triumph for the Friars, who desperately needed a résumé-enhancing win ahead of Selection Sunday, was quickly transformed into another reminder that UConn’s chances to capture a second consecutive national championship are real.

Beginning with a pair of free throws from point guard Tristen Newton at the 12:02 mark, Connecticut unleashed a hellacious 33-5 run to close the half. A double-digit Providence lead was whittled until the Huskies’ advantage swelled to 18, the final dagger coming from reserve guard Hassan Diarra on a spinning, double-clutch 3-pointer at the buzzer. The building fell silent.

Hassan Diarra drills a NASTY halftime buzzer-beater to extend No. 2 UConn’s lead over Providence

It was the nature of UConn’s onslaught that underscored just how difficult head coach Dan Hurley’s team is to defend. The 33 points were scored by six different players, five of whom splashed at least one 3 during the run. There were 10 points in the paint, including four from backup center Samson Johnson. Twice, the Huskies made 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions.

There were 20 minutes still to play, but Connecticut had landed its knockout punch.

Coming to life

Even though Hurley’s team won 10 of 11 games from Jan. 17 through March 3, including a 14-point victory over Creighton and a 28-point destruction of Marquette, there was enough data to wonder if a shooting slump for Karaban was cause for concern.

Karaban had averaged 2.3 made 3-pointers per game across his first 17 appearances, twice establishing his season high of six against Georgetown and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He developed into Connecticut’s second-best perimeter shooter behind red-hot Rutgers transfer Cam Spencer.

But aside from a two-game explosion against Big East bottom feeder DePaul on Feb. 14 and the return date with Georgetown four days prior, Karaban’s consistency began to wane. He made just 20 of 60 attempts during the 11-game dip for a 3-point percentage nearly 10 points below his season average. From Feb. 17 to March 3, he shot 4-for-22 from beyond the arc.

Any doubts over whether Karaban would shake free in time for postseason play were tempered during a 74-67 win over Marquette on Wednesday night. He shot 8-for-13 from the field, including 5-for-9 from beyond the arc, to finish with a game-high 23 points. Then he burned the nylon at Providence three days later to officially put the discussion to rest.

Karaban torched the Friars by making four of his six attempts from beyond the arc and six of 14 field goals overall. He drilled four consecutive triples from the 14:56 mark of the first half to the 17:44 mark of the second as the Huskies rumbled toward another easy win.

Stating his case

For the better part of a month, debate has raged over who should be crowned Big East Player of the Year in a league packed with high-end talent.

Connecticut, which won the outright regular-season title for the first time since 1999, is so balanced that the roster lacks an obvious choice. Is Newton more valuable than Spencer? How much of UConn’s success should be credited to 7-foot-2 center Donovan Clingan, who influences games at both ends of the floor?

Creighton has a trio of worthy candidates in Baylor Scheierman, Trey Alexander and Ryan Kalkbrenner. Marquette lays claim to the reigning Player of the Year in point guard Tyler Kolek, who was playing at an elite level before an oblique injury cut short his regular season.

The dark horse in this particular argument is Carter of Providence, whose year-over-year improvement from the 2022-23 campaign to the present helped keep the Friars afloat after losing star Bryce Hopkins to a torn ACL. Carter leads the league in scoring at 19.2 points per game and hauls in 8.4 rebounds for a team that is squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Were Providence a spot or two higher in the league standings, Carter might be a shoo-in to win.

Devin Carter comes up with a big block then slams it at the other end to extend Providence’s lead over No. 2 UConn

He opened Saturday’s game against UConn with an incredible flurry, burying his first four shots from the field and reaching 12 points while the Huskies were stuck on two. He hit a deep 3 with defenders in his face and a step-back jumper in the lane. He blocked a 3-pointer from Newton at one end and coasted in for a dunk at the other.

By halftime, Carter had 15 of his team’s 24 points and a game-high seven rebounds — but the Friars still trailed by 18.

He finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds on 9-for-19 shooting.

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.

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