Huskies have chance to boost ré­sumé

Greenwich Time (Sunday) - - SPORTS - By David Borges

STORRS — It was back to the ba­sics for UConn over the past few days.

Af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing de­fen­sive ef­fort in an oth­er­wise de­ci­sive vic­tory over UMass-Low­ell on Tues­day night, head coach Dan Hur­ley warned that his troops needed to im­prove in that area. And fast.

“If we don’t get bet­ter, at that end of the court, quickly,” Hur­ley said Tues­day night, “we’re gonna be in deep trou­ble, be­gin­ning on Sun­day.”

On Sun­day, UConn (6-1) hosts Ari­zona at the XL Cen­ter (1 p.m., ESPN2) to com­plete the teams’ home­and-home se­ries. The Wild­cats topped the Huskies by 15 last season in Tuc­son.

Now, this isn’t a vin­tage Ari­zona team. In fact, this will be the sev­enth time the pro­grams have faced each other and the first time that nei­ther is ranked. Ari­zona had been ranked in all pre­vi­ous six en­coun­ters with the Huskies (though it lost five of them).

This year’s Wild­cats (5-2) were dec­i­mated by a wave of de-com­mit­ments last year in the wake of the NCAA re­cruit­ing scan­dal that’s rocked the col­lege hoops world, los­ing all four in­com­ing re­cruits. But it’s still Ari­zona, a peren­nial Pac-12 pow­er­house that is com­ing off a 30-point win over Ge­or­gia State on Thurs­day and whose only two losses have been out in Maui to cur­rent No. 1 Gon­zaga and No. 8 Auburn.

“Ari­zona’s one of those teams that you al­ways see mak­ing runs in the tourna-

ment, you see a lot of their guys in the NBA,” said se­nior guard Jalen Adams. “So, when you get a chance to play against them, it’s al­ways fun and ex­cit­ing. Es­pe­cially for guys who are re­turn­ing. They beat us last year, so we want to get re­venge and even it up.”

And that means tight­en­ing up on the de­fen­sive end of the floor. Hur­ley said the team has spent the past sev­eral prac­tices work­ing on the type of fun­da­men­tal de­fen­sive drills they did in the pre­sea­son. Grit­tier things, the coach said, to de­velop a tougher mind­set — tak­ing charges, sac­ri­fic­ing your body, not get­ting beat off the drib­ble.

“You’ll know we’re di­aled-in the way we need to be, de­fen­sively, if we take three or four charges and we dive on the floor 10 or 12 times,” Hur­ley said fol­low­ing

Fri­day’s prac­tice. “Be­cause that’s how we’ve got to play this year.”

While there may not be any one-and-dones on this year’s Wild­cat ros­ter, that could be a pos­i­tive. Last year’s ros­ter was flow­ing with tal­ents like De­an­dre Ay­ton, Al­lonzo Trier and Rawle Atkins, yet got popped in the first round of the NCAA tour­na­ment. This year’s team, led by ju­nior cen­ter Chase Jeter and tal­ented guards Bran­don Ran­dolph and Bran­don Wil­liams, doesn’t boast the same over­all size and tal­ent, but ul­ti­mately could be more suc­cess­ful.

“Tal­ented bunch of top-50, top-100 guys, just young at the two wing­guard spots, but those two Bran­dons are su­per-tal­ented, su­per-ex­plo­sive scor­ers,” Hur­ley noted. “The point guard (Justin Cole­man) is a grad trans­fer, the four-man (Ryan Luther) has ma­tu­rity. Ob­vi­ously, they’ve had a bru­tal sched­ule ...

they looked great (Thurs­day) night. They looked sharp on of­fense, shot the 3 well. It’s gonna be a hard game. They’re like a top-50 de­fen­sive team and a top-50 of­fen­sive team. If you’re not on top of your game, it’ll be a long game.”

As of Fri­day af­ter­noon, about 1,000 tick­ets re­mained un­sold, mean­ing there’s a good chance Sun­day’s game will be a sell­out. Hur­ley knows a big, bois­ter­ous crowd will be a big boost to his team. The Huskies also know that this is a good op­por­tu­nity to knock off a big-name, likely NCAA tour­na­ment team. UConn has an im­pres­sive win over Syra­cuse (though the Or­ange were with­out their star point guard and are cur­rently un­ranked). The fol­low­ing night, the Huskies got blown out by No. 14 Iowa.

UConn has two other big non-con­fer­ence games later this month, against No. 15 Florida State in Ne­wark, New Jersey on Dec. 8, then against de­fend­ing na­tional champ (and un­ranked) Vil­lanova on Dec. 22 at Madi­son Square Gar­den. There will be a few chances at re­sume-boost­ing wins in league play, but not as many as usual, with the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence seem­ingly in a down year.

Bot­tom line: Sun­day is a prime op­por­tu­nity at home that the Huskies can’t let slip out of their hands.

“It would be a great win for us to beat Ari­zona, be­cause of the con­fer­ence they’re in and the tra­di­tion of their pro­gram,” said Adams. “And just for us — we want to win this game to show that we can com­pete with the best of them. Not only to prove to peo­ple on the out­side, but to prove to our­selves that the win over Syra­cuse wasn’t the peak of our season. That we still have more growing to do.”

Sarah Stier / Getty Images

Jalen Adams and the UConn men’s bas­ket­ball team will host Ari­zona on Sun­day in Hartford.

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