UConn men host Harvard tonight

Storrs — Suffering consecutive losses for the first time this season has done nothing to shake UConn's confidence.

The Huskies (11-3) came home from a dismal two-game Texas road trip determined to sharpen their focus and increase their work ethic to try to return to the fine form that elevated them into the top 10 just a few weeks ago.

Anything less than their best effort tonight against surging Harvard (13-1) could spell trouble. Game time is 7 p.m. (SNY) at Gampel Pavilion.

"We're confident that we're going to bounce back," coach Kevin Ollie said Tuesday. "I don't feel like they've lost any confidence. I haven't lost any confidence in myself, in my coaching staff and in my players.

"Nobody is coming to save us. We've got to get ourselves out of it and we will do that. We've got to play UConn basketball and we're going to get back to that."

Maybe playing on their favorite home court before a supportive crowd will help lift the Huskies out of their funk.

The last time they played at Gampel (Dec. 2), they celebrated a dramatic last-second win over No. 15 Florida.

Since then, they've gone 3-3. They fell out of the national rankings on Monday.

They lacked intensity and energy in back-to-back American Athletic Conference losses at Houston Dec. 31 and SMU on Saturday. They had breakdowns in all areas, including on the defensive end where they failed to make stops during crucial stages and allowed a season-high 49.1 percent shooting against Houston and 47.2 percent against SMU.

"That's not the regular UConn basketball," graduate student Lasan Kromah said. "We're known for playing tough and playing defense and getting out on fast breaks. We just need to get back to that."

This week in practice, UConn has worked on tightening up its defensive shell, polishing its offensive execution and maintaining discipline on both ends of the court.

"Obviously it's a bump in the road," senior Niels Giffey said. "Every season has tough stretches and tough games. It's a good chance to really analyze your strengths and weaknesses, because when you win the whole time, you get comfortable.

"You stop working out as hard as you can. It's a good chance to come back and play Harvard and analyze our game again and really find our old character again."

After dominating the New England landscape over the years, UConn is losing its once firm grip in the region. A vastly improved UMass (12-1) has climbed to 19th in the Associated Press Top 25 poll while Harvard is off to its best start since 1945-46 and has won nine straight.

Riding a lethal mixture of depth, talent and experience, Harvard is on track to return to the NCAA tournament for a third consecutive season and favored to win a fourth straight Ivy League title.

"We need to share the basketball, rebound and defend," Ollie said. "We're playing a good team, well-coached. They've got a lot of solid players, a lot of experienced players. They've winning a lot of games.

"… It's going to be definitely a challenge. But if we come in and play solid and not lose our focus in possessions, we'll be able to come out with a win."

While UConn has dominated the series, winning the last nine meetings, Harvard has closed the gap in recent years. Last season the Huskies held on for a 57-49 victory in Storrs.

"They're not only smart guys, they also have great athletes," Giffey said. "The last couple of years we've played them, they've always been a great team. So I definitely respect them."

g.keefe@theday.com

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