Huskies out to make a good first im­pres­sion

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - SPORTS - By David Borges

STORRS — The UConn men’s bas­ket­ball team seemed a lit­tle ner­vous, a bit jit­tery through the first 15 min­utes of prac­tice on Wed­nes­day.

The Huskies’ reg­u­lar sea­son-opener loomed in a lit­tle over 24 hours. The game is sold-out, UConn’s first sell­out at Gam­pel Pavil­ion since March, 2016. And while the op­po­nent (More­head State) wouldn’t nor­mally strike fear in the hearts of men, the Husky play­ers could be for­given if they were a lit­tle anx­ious.

Let’s just say that earl­y­sea­son games have been a bit of a strug­gle for the pro­gram in re­cent years.

Two years ago, UConn suf­fered the in­dig­nity of los­ing its first two games of the sea­son, both at Gam­pel, to Wag­ner and North­east­ern. Last year, the Huskies strug­gled to beat Col­gate and Stony Brook in their first two games, and it took over­time to beat both Columbia and Mon­mouth a few weeks later.

Cog­nizant of this, firstyear head coach Dan Hur­ley gath­ered the team in a hud­dle.

“Hey, fel­las, we’re com­ing into this open­ing night — these are the things we know we do well,” he said. “We can hang our hat on that. Do we have to get bet­ter in a lot of other ar­eas? Yes, but you guys should be con­fi­dent. You shouldn’t be anx­ious or ner­vous. We’re ready to play this par­tic­u­lar game. We know we’re gonna play hard, com­pete and get af­ter it.”

When the Huskies host More­head State on Thurs­day at Gam­pel (7 p.m., SNY), most of the main char­ac­ters will be the same as last year’s 14-18 team. But it will be the of­fi­cial un­veil­ing of Hur­ley, who took over af­ter Kevin Ol­lie was fired in March, as head coach.

Yes, UConn has held an open prac­tice for the pub­lic, and played an ex­hi­bi­tion game on Fri­day in front of 5,646 at Gam­pel. But all that pales in com­par­i­son to a sold-out build­ing filled with fans look­ing for a lit­tle more ex­cite­ment — and suc­cess — af­ter a cou­ple of dread­ful sea­sons.

Es­sen­tially, the Huskies have a chance to make a strong first im­pres­sion.

“We’ll get a sell­out, there’ll be enough ar­ti­cles, enough ex­cite­ment — new coach, new blood, ob­vi­ously a great fan base that’s re-ig­nited,” Hur­ley said. “But, if we want the games to get big­ger and bet­ter, we’ve got to go out and

per­form at a high level. So, yeah, it’s real im­por­tant for us to go out and play well, and be bet­ter than we were in the ex­hi­bi­tion.”

Added se­nior guard Jalen Adams: “You’ve got to get the crowd into it so they keep com­ing back to sup­port us when we have those tough games at home. We’re gonna need their sup­port.”

If Fri­day’s 96-64 win over South­ern Con­necti­cut State is any in­di­ca­tion, UConn will look to run, run, run the ball up the floor. The Huskies scored 45 fast-break points against the Owls, and they’ll need that type of up­tempo play. UConn barely out­re­bounded South­ern, a D-II squad, and that fig­ures to be one of the team’s Achilles’ heels.

An air of pos­i­tiv­ity — if a bit of ner­vous­ness — seems to hang around the team right now. There cer­tainly have been enough bad mem­o­ries from the past two sea­sons: in­juries, un­en­thu­si­as­tic play, 20-point losses (a school-record eight last sea­son) and far too many close calls — or bad losses — in early-sea­son games.

On Thurs­day night, UConn can take its first step in rem­e­dy­ing at least that lat­ter me­mory.

“You de­serve to go to the game with a much higher level of con­fi­dence than you’ve dis­played the past cou­ple of months,” Hur­ley told his team. “You guys have earned the right, with the work you’ve put in, to go out (Thurs­day) with some con­fi­dence, some swag­ger, and an at­ti­tude that you’re ready to play a great game.”

In front of an in­creas­ingly rare sell­out crowd, no less.

“That all comes with get­ting a new coach,” said Adams. “Ev­ery­body’s anx­ious to see what changes he brings. His­tor­i­cally, he’s known for bring­ing pro­grams who had off-years to have great years and make runs in the tour­na­ment. So, I’m just ex­cited for (Thurs­day).”

Jes­sica Hill / As­so­ci­ated Press

Jalen Adams is greeted by fans as he is in­tro­duced dur­ing UConn’s an­nual First Night cel­e­bra­tion in Storrs on Oct. 12.

As­so­ci­ated Press

UConn guard Jalen Adams (4) cel­e­brates af­ter hit­ting a 3-pointer against South­ern Con­necti­cut dur­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion win on Nov. 2 in Storrs.

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