Huskies set for emo­tional bat­tle with No. 11 Flor­ida State

Greenwich Time - - SPORTS - By David Borges david.borges @hearst­medi­

STORRS — Dan Hur­ley is a one-man, emo­tional roller coaster on the side­lines dur­ing games. Happy, an­gry, frus­trated, ex­cited, be­wil­dered, an­gry again ... the UConn head coach pretty much cov­ers ‘em all.

It was a dif­fer­ent emo­tion that over­came Hur­ley as he spoke to re­porters fol­low­ing UConn’s prac­tice on Thurs­day. The Huskies are head­ing to Ne­wark, N.J. to face No. 11 Flor­ida State on Satur­day (6:30 p.m., ESPN2) in one of two Never For­get Trib­ute Clas­sic games at Pru­den­tial Cen­ter. The dou­ble­header (Mis­sis­sippi State faces Clem­son in the opener) raises money for the ed­u­ca­tional as­pi­ra­tions of the chil­dren of the vic­tims of the Sept. 11, 2001 ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

Hur­ley is as New Jer­sey as they get, and like vir­tu­ally any­one from the TriS­tate area at the time, was af­fected by the tragedy. His close friend’s brother, a New York City fire­man, died that day.

“There’s so many of those types of sto­ries,” Hur­ley said, a bit choked up, his voice quiv­er­ing with emo­tion, “you just get a chill as you get to Satur­day.”

Hur­ley will, in­deed, ride the roller-coaster of emo­tions again this week­end. The sor­row of the re­minder of 9/11 will in­ter­twine with the ex­cite­ment of a sort of home­com­ing, along with the anx­i­eties of fac­ing one of the most tal­ented, phys­i­cal teams in the coun­try.

“The emo­tion is good,” he noted. “Laugh­ing, be­ing sad, happy — run­ning the emo­tional gamut is a good thing.”

Then, in the un­der­state­ment of the year, Hur­ley added: “I’m no stoic.”

UConn (7-2) will stay in a ho­tel in Jer­sey City, Hur­ley’s home town, where he starred un­der his Hall of Fame head coach fa­ther, Bob Sr., at St. An­thony’s High. The game will be played just a cou­ple of blocks down from St. Bene­dict’s Prep, home of Hur­ley’s first head coach­ing job, where he took over a strug­gling pro­gram in a di­lap­i­dated part of the city and turned it into a na­tional pow­er­house pro­gram, churn­ing out fu­ture pros like J.R. Smith and Lance Thomas.

He’ll have dozens of peo­ple — fam­ily, friends, for­mer coaches, team­mates and play­ers — in the stands.

“I’ll take the time to ap­pre­ci­ate the jour­ney, prob­a­bly dur­ing the an­them look around and say, ‘Wow, I’m coach­ing UConn,’ ” Hur­ley noted. “Twelve years ago or so, I was coach­ing against Petty School in front of 200 peo­ple. So, pretty cool.”

Then, re­al­ity will hit hard, like a 7-foot-4, 268pound cen­ter. Or, like Christ Koumadje, Flor­ida State’s se­nior cen­ter, or any num­ber of tough, phys­i­cal Semi­nole play­ers.

“For us to have a chance on Satur­day,” said Hur­ley, “we’re gonna have to take on a locked-in ap­proach, and not give away many — if any — pos­ses­sions, of­fen­sively or de­fen­sively. We can’t have any weak­ness in terms of shot se­lec­tion, driv­ing it into their length and throw­ing wild things up on the back­board, or turn­ing it over and they’re get­ting runouts. We’re gonna have to play re­ally re­spon­si­bly at both ends for a full 40 min­utes. If we have any lulls with th­ese guys, it’ll get away from us quick.”

Flor­ida State (7-1) re­turns seven of its top eight scor­ers from last year’s Elite Eight team. It has picked off Flor­ida, LSU and Pur­due al­ready, with its lone loss com­ing to de­fend­ing na­tional champ Vil­lanova. And the Semi­noles have done it all with­out last year’s lead­ing scorer, for­ward Phil Cofer, who has been side­lined by a foot in­jury and is un­likely to play on Satur­day.

The Huskies are hun­gry for a big, non-con­fer­ence win. They got one against then-No. 15 Syra­cuse a few weeks ago, though the Orange were with­out star point guard Frank Howard, got blown out by Ore­gon the fol­low­ing night and are cur­rently un­ranked. UConn got blown out the fol­low­ing night by Iowa. And on Sun­day, the Huskies squan­dered a great chance, los­ing by four to a strong (though un­ranked) Ari­zona team in Hart­ford.

Op­por­tu­nity No. 3 awaits on Satur­day in Jer­sey.

“When you go up a com­pe­ti­tion level,” Hur­ley added, “the war that goes on when the ball goes up on the glass — es­pe­cially against a Flor­ida State team that re­ally tries to punk you phys­i­cally on the back­board and with their phys­i­cal­ity — I would say games like this, (the key) would be our abil­ity to guard the ball and stay in front of the ball with their phys­i­cal driv­ers and the war that goes on when the ball goes up. When they shoot it, they at­tack it.”

RIM RATTLINGS: Speak­ing of tough Jer­sey guys, UConn grad se­nior Tarin Smith chipped his tooth af­ter ac­ci­den­tally bump­ing into team­mate Tyler Pol­ley mid­way through the first half of Wed­nes­day night’s win over Lafayette in Hart­ford. He stayed in the game and went on to score seven of his nine points in the lat­ter half.

“I felt it when it hap­pened,” Smith said. “I just looked around, felt around my mouth and felt I had no tooth. I had it (hap­pen) be­fore when I was real lit­tle, so I kept play­ing. I wasn’t re­ally hurt, so I just fin­ished the game.”

Smith, who hails from Ocean Town­ship, N.J. and played for Hur­ley Sr. at St. An­thony’s, had to get a root canal on Thurs­day morn­ing, and was due to get the tooth crowned on Fri­day be­fore the Huskies left for Ne­wark. He’ll wear a mouth­guard from now on, some­thing his mom has told him to do since he was a young­ster.

“My mother wasn’t so happy about it,” he said, with a smile. “She sent me a cou­ple of bad mes­sages af­ter the game, so I’ve got to get it fixed.”

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