Huskies looking for first AAC win

UConn's Shabazz Napier drives to the hoop past Harvard's Steve Moundou-Missi (14) during UConn's 61-56 victory on Wednesday in Storrs.
UConn's Shabazz Napier drives to the hoop past Harvard's Steve Moundou-Missi (14) during UConn's 61-56 victory on Wednesday in Storrs. Fred Beckham/AP photo

Two weeks into American Athletic Conference play, UConn almost needs binoculars to see the top of the league.

It's not a view that the Huskies are accustomed to in their proud basketball history.

They reside in ninth place in the 10-team league after losing their first two games in conference play for the first time since the 1989-90 season.

It's far from an impossible hole to climb out off. Every team has at least one league loss except for first-place Cincinnati.

Plus, history is on their side.

The 1989-90 Huskies went on to enjoy a magical season after losing their first two Big East games, earning a share of the regular season championship and reaching the NCAA tournament Elite Eight.

UConn (12-3, 0-2) will attempt to start its ascent tonight against Central Florida (9-4, 1-1) at 6 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.

"Every team is good….," coach Kevin Ollie said of the conference. "I've been telling you that for a long time since we were at conference media day (in October). These teams are good and they can beat you at any time if you don't have your `A' game."

"…Hopefully we can go out and get our first win in the American Conference and then we can just roll them off kind of like that 89-90 team when they went 0-2 and ended up winning the conference."

Picked second in the coaches' preseason poll, so far UConn has failed to live up to its billing as one of the league's elite programs. The Huskies stumbled badly during their two-game road swing through Texas last week, losing to Houston and Southern Methodist University.

They appeared to regain their edge and restore their conference in a 61-56 win over Harvard on Wednesday. They stayed connected as a team and consistenly displayed more energy than in their previous two games.

Defensively, they had a "level five" performance, according to Ollie.

"I always say level five because that's where I want my teams to play at, offensively and defensively and talking and communicating and getting back on defense and playing at that championship level.

"If you don't do that, you can get beat. … We want to come out and have our level five game each and every day."

Central Florida delivered a stunning blow to UConn the last time the two programs met, upsetting the No. 4 Huskies, 68-63, in the 2011 Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals in the Bahamas.

In that game, sophomore guard Isaiah Sykes started and contributed 10 points. Sykes has developed into one of the AAC's top players, leading the team in points (15.0) and assists (3.5) and tying for the team-high in rebounds (6.5).

"He's been putting up big numbers…," Ollie said. "He's a walking triple double. We're going to have to try to limit his touches.

"Understand when he comes off pick and rolls that he loves to drive left, so we're going to have to squeeze the paint but understand they have some terrific shooters in (Kasey) Wilson and a couple of other guys that can knock down shots."

With four UCF players averaging in double figures, the Huskies have to worry about more scoring threats than just Sykes.

The Knights also excel in an area that UConn struggles with - rebounding. They rank first in the conference in rebounding offense at 40.9 and second in rebounding margin at 7.1.

With a win tonight, UConn can improve its position, take some momentum into a crucial stretch and avoid going 0-3 in league play for the first time since 1984-85.

Next week the Huskies play the only two ranked teams in the conference, visiting No. 24 Memphis Thursday and hosting No. 12 Louisville Saturday.


Location: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs

Tip-off time: 6 p.m. (ESPNU)

Records: Central Florida 9-4, 1-1, UConn 12-3, 0-2

Last game: Central Florida beat Temple, 78-76, Saturday; UConn beat Harvard, 61-56, Wednesday

Probable starters: UConn, 6-0 jr. guard Ryan Boatright (12.9 pts, 3.5 assists), 6-1 sr. guard Shabazz Napier (16.1 pts, 5.6 assists, 6.5 rebs), 6-8 jr. forward DeAndre Daniels (12.7 pts, 4.8 rebs), 6-6 grad. forward Lasan Kromah (6.7 pts, 2.6 rebs), 6-10 sr. forward Tyler Olander (2.5 pts, 1.5 rebs)

Central Florida, 6-1 sr. guard Calvin Newell (13.7 pts, 3.3 assists), 6-6 sr. guard Isaiah Sykes (15 pts, 6.5 rebs), 6-7 jr. forward Kasey Wilson (11.5 pts, 5.8 rebs), 6-8 sr. forward Tristan Spurlock (12.4 pts, 6.5 rebs), 6-8 jr. forward Eugene McCrory (6.7 pts, 3.7 rebs)

Noteworthy, Trying to avoid first 0-3 conference start since 1984-85. … UConn 3-3 in last six games. … UCF won five of six. ... Series: UConn leads 3-1, losing last meeting 68-63 at 2011 Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. … UCF picked to finish ninth in conference. … Sykes, a second team All-AAC preseason pick, leads team in pts, rebs and assists… … Top reserve: 6-5 so. guard Matt Williams (5.8 pts, 3.1 rebs). … Hot: Kromah averaging 10.5 pts, 5.5 rebs and 3.5 assists in last two games. Cold: Daniels 9-for-28 from field in last three games. … UCF ranks first in AAC in rebounding offense (40.9) and UConn ranks last (34.9). Huskies first in FT percentage (76.1) … As of Jan. 8, Niels Giffey led nation in 3-pt FG percentage at 61.8. … Up next: UConn visits Memphis Thursday.

- Gavin Keefe

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