No. 11 FSU a matchup night­mare for UConn

The Day - - LOCAL SPORTS - By GAVIN KEEFE Day Sports Writer

UConn has bounced be­tween try­ing to avoid and au­thor dis­as­ters, de­pend­ing on the game this sea­son.

The Huskies have dodged dis­as­ters that hurt them in re­cent sea­sons, post­ing the ex­pected blowouts. But they've fallen short in their up­set quest two out of three times, with only a win over Syra­cuse to their credit.

An­other tough test is ahead for UConn (7-2) on Satur­day when it faces No. 11 Florida State (7-1) in the Never For­get Trib­ute Clas­sic (6:30 p.m., ESPN2) at the Pru­den­tial Cen­ter in Ne­wark, N.J.

"Ob­vi­ously, an in­cred­i­ble chal­lenge Satur­day be­cause we're play­ing against one of the most phys­i­cal, ath­letic teams in the coun­try," coach Dan Hur­ley said. "I don't think we've seen any­one that looks like these men we're go­ing to play.

"It's such a great op­por­tu­nity for us with where we've been, to go back and play in the Metropoli­tan area and hope­fully we have good fan sup­port like we al­ways get there. Just try­ing to put our­selves in po­si­tion, like the Syra­cuse game, to have a chance to win."

The Semi­noles are a matchup night­mare.

They re­turned the bulk of a team that reached the NCAA Elite Eight last sea­son. They're deep, tal­ented, bal­anced and phys­i­cally tough. Five play­ers av­er­age at least 9.5 points per game, led by 6-foot-7 se­nior swing­man Ter­ance Mann, whom Hur­ley re­cruited while at Rhode Is­land. They cre­ate havoc, forc­ing an av­er­age of 17.5 turnovers per game. Their only loss is to de­fend­ing na­tional cham­pion Vil­lanova.

The Huskies have beaten only one top 15 pro­gram (then-No. 15 Syra­cuse ear­lier this yeare) since knock­ing off top-ranked Florida in the 2014 na­tional semi­fi­nal game.

Un­der Hur­ley, they've closed the com­pet­i­tive gap from last sea­son.

"I've en­joyed watch­ing the progress of UConn's team," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "It seems as though they are re­ally buy­ing into their coach's in­ten­sity, his en­ergy, the ex­e­cu­tion . ... They are rep­re­sent­ing a lit­tle bit more what the Hur­ley tra­di­tion has al­ways been — tough,

ag­gres­sive, hard-nosed, com­pet­i­tive play."

"I have no doubt over a pe­riod of time, it's not go­ing to be long, that they'll get there." The Huskies are not quite there yet. They paid dearly for their mis­takes in losses to Iowa and Ari­zona. De­fen­sive break­downs and turnovers pre­vented them for stun­ning Ari­zona in a four-point home loss on Sun­day. It was a game that Hur­ley be­lieved his Huskies should have won.

Hur­ley has his share of con­cerns play­ing Florida State.

"What prob­a­bly scares me the most with this op­po­nent would be our abil­ity to guard the ball and stay in front of the ball with their phys­i­cal drivers and then the war that's go­ing to go on when the ball goes up," Hur­ley said. "When they shoot it, they at­tack it with men.

"For us to have a chance on Satur­day, we're go­ing to have to take 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. We can't have any weak­ness in terms of driv­ing it into their length and throw­ing wild things up on the back­board, or turn­ing it over and then they're get­ting run-outs.

"We're go­ing to have to play re­ally re­spon­si­bly at both ends for a full 40 min­utes. If we have lulls with these guys, it will get away from us quick."

Satur­day's game holds ex­tra mean­ing for Hur­ley and grad­u­ate trans­fer Tarin Smith, two New Jersey na­tives. Hur­ley also spent nine years coach­ing and teach­ing at nearby St. Bene­dict's Prepara­tory School.

"I'm re­ally ex­cited," said Smith, a St. An­thony's High School grad­u­ate. "I prob­a­bly have a bunch of peo­ple com­ing. I went to high school not too far from there. It's go­ing to be a big time game. This is the rea­son why you come here to play in games like this.

"You want to go to your home­town and you want to show them what you've been work­ing on and make them proud, so that's what we're go­ing to do." [email protected]­day.com

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