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Another day, another big game for UConn men

Kevin Ollie has regularly applied the Big Game label in recent weeks.

The UConn head coach did it again when talking about Wednesday's American Athletic Conference game at East Carolina at 7 p.m. at Minges Coliseum in Greenville, N.C.

"We have our biggest game of the season against ECU coming up," Ollie said following Saturday's loss to SMU in Hartford.

The Huskies give equal weight to the remaining two regular-season games, the other against No. 18 Cincinnati on Sunday in Storrs.

"We need very win we can get at this point," senior Kentan Facey said. "We need to go out focused, come out with that sense of urgency and put ourselves in the best position for post-season."

Postseason for the Huskies means playing in next week's AAC tournament at the XL Center in Hartford. To extend their season deeper into March will require a red-hot run.

The best way to set up a successful finish is to grab one of five first-round byes in the conference tournament, which runs March 9-12. The fifth-place Huskies (14-14, 9-7) could land anywhere from the No. 4 to the No. 7 seed.

They're a half-game behind fourth-place Central Florida (19-10, 10-7) and one-game ahead of Memphis (18-11, 8-8) and Tulsa (14-14, 8-8), which are tied for sixth.

Odds are Central Florida will secure a bye with its only remaining game against last-place South Florida.

A win over East Carolina (13-16, 5-11) would put UConn in great position for a top five finish. Memphis faces Tulane (5-23, 2-14) on Thursday and visits AAC leader SMU (25-4, 15-1) on Saturday. Tulsa finishes with the same two opponents, both on the road.

The X factor is UConn sophomore Jalen Adams' status. Whether Adams, who suffered a moderate left ankle sprain against SMU, plays will be a game time decision. He hasn't practiced this week.

The Huskies have remained fairly upbeat despite dealing with a rash of injuries this season.

"It's frustrating in a sense, but at the end of the day we know there's nobody that's going to do it for us," Facey said. "We can't make trades, we can't do anything like that so we've got to figure out a way to do it with the guys we have."

With or without Adams, UConn is favored to win Wednesday.

East Carolina is the AAC's worst offensive team, ranking last in scoring offense (62.6 points per game) and field goal percentage (39.8).

The Pirates remain competitive by digging in on defense, allowing just 64.2 points and 38.9 percent shooting. They have a shot at setting school single-season records in both departments.

In the first meeting on Jan. 22 in Hartford, UConn rode a 21-0 first half run to a big lead and then held off ECU in the second half to post a 72-65 victory. The Pirates were missing guard B.J. Tyson, who has since returned from a knee injury.

The Huskies are trying to avoid dropping three straight, one shy of tying their longest losing streak of the season. A win would prevent them from finishing the regular season below .500 for the first time since 1986-87.

While Ollie hasn't been able to count on his team's health, UConn's competitive spirit has been reliable as the sunrise.

"They never gave up on the season and they could have done that a lot of times," Ollie said.

So why haven't the Huskies buckled under the bad luck?

Pride.

"We don't have a choice," Facey said. "We still have to represent this university. Regardless of the ups and downs that we've faced, we still have to represent the guys that came before us."

g.keefe@theday.com

UCONN at EAST CAROLINA

Location: Minges Coliseum, Greenville, N.C.

Tip: 7 p.m. (ESPNU)

Records: UConn 14-14, 9-7; East Carolina 13-16, 5-11

Last game: UConn lost to SMU, 69-61, Saturday; East Carolina lost at Tulsa, 74-66, Saturday

Probable starters: UConn, 6-3 so. guard Jalen Adams (14.6 pts, 6.6 assists, 4.3 rebs), 6-4 r-sr. guard Rodney Purvis (13.3 pts, 4.2 rebs), 6-8 fr. forward Vance Jackson (7.9 pts, 3.8 rebs), 6-10 sr. forward Kentan Facey (8.9 pts, 7.3 rebs), 7-0 sr. center Amida Brimah (7.5 pts, 6 rebs, 2.7 blks)

East Carolina, 6-1 fr. guard Jeremy Sheppard (9.3 pts, 3.5 assists), 6-5 so. guard Kentrell Barkley (12.4 pts, 7.5 rebs) 6-7 sr. guard Caleb White (11.3 pts), 6-8 sr. forward Michel Nzege (3.2 pts, 2.9 rebs), 7-1 grad. center Andre Washington (7.2 pts, 3 blks)

Noteworthy: Adams (ankle sprain) questionable, a game time decision. ... Fifth-place UConn lost two straight, battling for one of five 1st round byes in AAC tourney. ... ECU will be either No. 8 or No. 9 seed. ... Series: UConn leads, 7-1, winning last 6 including 72-65 Jan. 22 in Hartford. Adams with 19 pts, Barkley 18. Only loss in series in 1971. ... Pirates last overall in AAC in FG percentage (39.8) and scoring offense (62.6). ... Top reserve: 6-3 jr. guard B.J. Tyson (10.5 pts). ... Regular season home finale for Pirates. ... ECU 4-6 with asst. coach Michael Perry in charge, replacing Jeff Lebo (out, hip replacement). ... Washington 4 blks shy of ECU's single season record. ... Hot: Jackson 10-for-19 from field, averaging 15 pts in last 2 games. Cold: UConn shooting 39.3 percent last 2 games. .. Huskies 4-7 on the road. ECU 11-5 at home. ... Up next: UConn hosts Cincinnati Sunday on Senior Day.

— Gavin Keefe

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