Banged-up Huskies, Bonnies meet in key tilt
There are many saints of Newark, as well as its surrounding area. Dan Hurley has ties to most of them.
Hurley played at St. Anthony’s High in nearby Jersey City under his father, Bob, who won 26 state titles at the school and earned induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. He honed his own coaching chops for nine years at Saint Benedict’s Prep, just a few blocks down from the Prudential Center in downtown Newark.
And that’s where the only “saints” that Hurley is concerned with right now will meet UConn on Saturday. The 15th-ranked Huskies take on St. Bonaventure at The Rock (4 p.m., ESPN2) in a Never Forget Tribute Classic game with huge implications for both teams.
UConn (8-2) is coming off a tough road loss at West Virginia on Wednesday night. The Huskies have largely dominated lesser competition this season but are 1-2 in Quad 1
games. Saturday’s game would currently be a Quad 2 win for the Huskies, but could be a Quad 1 by the end of the season if the Bonnies (69 NET) move into the NET Top 50.
A loss on Saturday could also bump UConn from the AP Top 25.
Meanwhile, St. Bonaventure (8-1) has already been bumped from the national rankings. After beginning the season ranked No. 24 and climbing as high as No. 16 on Nov 22, the Bonnies are no longer in the Top 25 after a Nov. 27 home loss to Northern Iowa, followed by three straight ho-hum wins over low-to-mid-majors and an injury to their best player.
“Our guys know it’s a big game — national stage, playing a great opponent,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “I think the guys know if they don’t play their ‘A’ game, it’s not gonna be a game. You play in fear a little bit. If you don’t play 100 percent against UConn, you’re not gonna win. I think our guys understand that.”
Kyle Lofton, a senior guard averaging 17.4 points per game, suffered a highankle sprain in the Bonnies’ Dec. 1 win over Coppin State and has missed the last two games. He is hoping to play on Saturday,
and Schmidt said he’s “dayto-day” right now.
But Lofton’s availability has to be considered unlikely at this point.
Not that Hurley is going to shed any tears. The Huskies are down two of their top three scorers in Adama Sanogo (15.6 ppg) and Tyrese Martin (12.9). Sanogo is likely out at least another week or so, though Martin (who is also UConn’s top rebounder) has been pushing to play on Saturday.
“And we’re pushing back,” Hurley said earlier in the week, adding that it’s probably more realistic that the 6-6 wing returns for the Huskies’ Dec. 18 Big East opener against Providence.
Schmidt isn’t fretting about Martin’s availability either way.
“You prepare for everybody playing,” said Schmidt, who’s in his 16th season as the Bonnies’ head coach. “They’re really talented. If he doesn’t play, there’s somebody as good as him stepping in. They’ve got a lot of depth, and that’s one of the reasons why they’re so good. Him playing or not playing doesn’t change the way we’re gonna play or go about the scout.”
UConn hasn’t played the Bonnies since 2003. However, Hurley and Schmidt are quite familiar with each other, going head-to-head eight times while Hurley was head coach at Rhode Island in the Atlantic-10
from 2012-18. Hurley went 5-3 in those matchups.
“He’s an aggressive personality, and usually your team takes on the personality of the coach,” Schmidt said of Hurley. “They did at Rhode Island, and they’re certainly doing it at UConn. We’ve had good, competitive games. We’ve got a good relationship off the court. He’s done a really good job at both Rhode Island and UConn. The games have been really competitive between the two schools, and hopefully they can be competitive (Saturday).”
This will be UConn’s final non-league game before its 20-game Big East slate begins a week later. St. Bonaventure has a Basketball Hall of Fame Shootout date with Virginia Tech (Dec. 16) and a trip to Northeastern (Dec. 22) before kicking off league play in the A-10, which offers far fewer Quad 1 opportunities than the Big East.
“The tougher team’s gonna win,” said Schmidt. “The team that gets the most points in the paint, that outrebounds — the tough areas. You’ve got to be able to defend, to rebound. Toughness is taking care of the basketball, making good decisions. They pride themselves on that, and so do we.”