UConn Vs. Ari­zona

Huskies, fans eye­ing re­turn to promi­nence

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Dom Amore [email protected]

The Huskies will have an­other chance to boost the pro­gram in Hartford.

When the Uconn men’s bas­ket­ball team rushes through the tun­nel in Hartford on Sun­day, the Huskies will have roughly 15,000 fans be­hind them — and an­other op­por­tu­nity to re­store the pro­gram in front of them.

“It would be a great win for us to beat Ari­zona,” Jalen Adams said, “just be­cause of the con­fer­ence they’re in, and the tra­di­tion of their pro­gram. And just for us. We want to win this game just to show that we can com­pete with the best of them, not only for 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.”

The first seven games of Dan Hur­ley’s first season as the Huskies’ coach have shown five rel­a­tively easy vic­to­ries over mid-ma­jor op­po­nents, a fan-base rock­ing win over Syra­cuse at Madi­son Square Gar­den on Nov. 15 and knock­back-to-re­al­ity loss to Iowa the next

night.

Now the Huskies have an­other chance to push them­selves into na­tional rel­e­vance with Ari­zona com­ing to play at the XL Cen­ter at 1 p.m. With less than 1,000 tick­ets re­main­ing Fri­day, the game could be a sell­out and bring a vol­ume UConn bas­ket­ball has not ex­pe­ri­enced much in re­cent sea­sons.

“It’s go­ing to be fun,” said Adams, a se­nior hav­ing his best season at UConn. “I played in a sell­out game my fresh­man year when we played Ge­orge­town, so I have a feel for what it’s go­ing to be like, and I’m anx­ious to get out there.”

UConn has drawn some big crowds to the XL Cen­ter since that win over Ge­orge­town in Jan­uary 2016, but usu­ally the folks have ar­rived skep­ti­cal, ex­pect­ing the worst against Vil­lanova, Cincin­nati or Wi­chita State. Un­der Hur­ley, op­ti­mism has re­turned to Huskies fans who will come hop­ing to crash a com­ing out party.

“I played there a long time ago [with Pitt in the early 1990s],” Ari­zona coach Sean Miller told re­porters in Tuc­son. “It’s a great, great home court for UConn. They have an un­real fan base. They have a hun­gry, re­ally tal­ented new coach. They re­turn a lot from last year’s game. We know it’s go­ing to be a hard fought game.”

When UConn and Ari­zona signed on for this home-and-home se­ries in Au­gust of 2014, the Huskies were a few months re­moved from their na­tional cham­pi­onship and Ari­zona was well es­tab­lished as a Pac 12 power and peren­nial cham­pi­onship con­tender. Last season, the se­ries be­gan with UConn en route to a sub-.500 season, and the Huskies lost by 15 in Tuc­son.

The se­ries con­cludes with UConn fight­ing to get back on the map and Ari­zona re­build­ing, and still some­what un­der the cloud of the FBI probe into col­lege bas­ket­ball.

But on Sun­day at 1 p.m., is­sues should fade and all can at­tempt an es­cape into the past, when games like this were the rule in Hartford, not the ex­cep­tion.

“It’s huge,” Hur­ley said. “There’s a rea­son why teams that do well at home, do well at home. When you get sell­out crowds and they’re en­thu­si­as­tic, you get en­er­gized when you run through the tun­nel. Geno [Auriemma] grabbed me when I first got here and he talked about the whole Storrs and XL Cen­ter thing, and he said, when that place is packed, it’s pretty cool.”

The cool­ness will only last as long as UConn (6-1) plays well. Ari­zona (5-2) lost twice, to top-ranked Gon­zaga and pow­er­ful Auburn in a tour­na­ment in Maui last week. The Wild­cats flew home and pol­ished off Ge­or­gia South­ern on Thurs­day and now fly 2,500 miles to face UConn. “You want to play against th­ese kinds of pro­grams,” Miller said, “and UConn has ev­ery­thing.”

The Wild­cats have a rel­a­tively young team, but top scor­ers Bran­don Ran­dolph (16.9 points) and Bran­don Wil­liams (13.0) are a con­cern for a UConn team still striv­ing to meet Hur­ley’s de­fen­sive stan­dards, and like Iowa, the Wild­cats have the size to make driv­ing the lane dif­fi­cult for UConn’s guard-heavy of­fen­sive ap­proach.

“It’s go­ing to be a hard game,” Hur­ley said. “They’re a top-50 type of­fen­sive team, and a top-50 type de­fen­sive team, and if you’re not on top of your game, it’s go­ing to be a long game. A real phys­i­cal game. Sean’s teams are al­ways re­ally, re­ally phys­i­cal. But they run on makes and misses very well. So I don’t know that it’s go­ing to be a rock fight, but it’s go­ing to be a phys­i­cal game.”

Adams said the Huskies will have to fo­cus on com­mu­ni­cat­ing, be­cause they won’t be able to hear Hur­ley from the side­line. But if they ex­e­cute his de­fense, the crowd will be­come the right kind of fac­tor for UConn, rat­tling the op­po­nent.

“We’ve got to make ev­ery­thing dif­fi­cult for them,” Adams said. “If they’re go­ing to get any­thing, they’re go­ing to have to out­work us.”

BRAD HORRIGAN/HARTFORD COURANT

UConn coach Dan Hur­ley and his Huskies are prepar­ing for their next ma­jor test, fac­ing Ari­zona on Sun­day at 1 p.m. at the XL Cen­ter.

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