Younger Huskies giving Hurley hope for the future

Playing for a four-time national championship program in decline can be a heavy burden.

These Huskies, especially the younger players, are far removed from the UConn basketball glory days. Yet expectations are that they'll eventually help restore the program to elite status with coach Dan Hurley in charge.

But that's not going to happen overnight.

With the starting backcourt duo of Jalen Adams and Alterique Gilbert sidelined with injuries, the Huskies (13-11, 4-7) may have trouble avoiding a third straight losing season.

"Nobody wants to be in the situation we're in with the record and the losses," Hurley said. "But the situation is what it is."

Concerned about his younger players, Hurley met with freshman Brendan Adams, sophomores Tyler Polley and Josh Carlton, redshirt freshman Sidney Wilson and Gilbert, a redshirt sophomore, on Monday to encourage them and explain that they're the foundation for the future.

"We had a very specific message to a group of young players on Monday," Hurley said. "They've got to keep their spirits up. The last couple of years are not the burden of Josh Carlton and Tyler and Sid and Brendan Adams to carry. They really haven't been here for the losses and the failures.

"They're just getting their first chance to play on the court and they're showing a lot of promise. So we've got to keep their spirits up as coaches because they're not responsible for where UConn basketball is at right now."

UConn will continue to be shorthanded on Thursday when it hosts No. 9 Houston (23-1, 10-1), the American Athletic Conference leader, at 7 p.m. at the XL Center in Hartford. Gilbert is making progress, participating in some live drills in Wednesday's practice, but will miss his fifth straight game due to left shoulder injury. Jalen Adams (left knee) will likely be out for the remainder of the regular season.

"He's getting closer," Hurley said of Gilbert. "This is the first time we can actually look at him and see him suiting up for something soon. Today was a day that he had that smile back and was running around."

Playing for the first full game without both Adams and Gilbert, UConn played well at Memphis Sunday after a sluggish start and lost 78-71. Hurley had mixed emotions, deflated about the defeat but encouraged about the performance of his underclassmen.

"These young guys have got to give us hope as we try to get through this," Hurley said. "It's been a tough period for this program. They've certainly given us moments."

Moments won't be enough for UConn to upset Houston, which is riding an eight-game winning streak. The Cougars are tough, talented and a stingy defensive team, ranking second in the nation in field goal percentage defense at .364 and sixth in scoring defense, allowing 60.7 points per game.

"I have not seen a better team on film," Hurley said. "They're loaded, they're coached, they're mature. This is what we hope to look like in a couple of years. I'm probably not going to get a very good night's sleep just knowing the quality of the opponent."

On the plus side, the game will give the younger Huskies some valuable experience.

This is a new world for them. Wilson, who sat out last season after transferring from St. John's, is facing a top 10 team for the first time while Carlton and Polley are being counted on after playing minor supporting roles last season. Reserve Brendan Adams is trying to find his way as a freshman.

Wilson has talked with his teammates about them taking ownership of the team and being vocal leaders.

"With us getting a bigger role with Jalen and Alterique being out for a little bit, we've definitely got to grow up a little bit quicker than they thought we would have to," Wilson said. "That's just going to help us in the long run."

Hurley believes there's a path to victory against every opponent, although it might be a narrow one against Houston. He'll look for other victories, too, like how his Huskies fare against the AAC's top team.

"While you're trying to desperately find a win... you also look for the small victories that you can appreciate a long the way as you're trying to build something great," Hurley said.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, who faced Hurley's Rhode Island team twice in recent years, watched a little bit of UConn's game at Memphis and came away impressed.

"I was just amazed at what a great job Danny is doing," Sampson said. "Team is playing hard; They're fighting. Their young players are getting better. ... I've always been very impressed with Danny as a coach. Congratulations to UConn for hiring such a great coach. He'll do a great job there."

g.keefe@theday.com

No. 9 Houston at UConn

Location: XL Center, Hartford

Time: 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Records: Houston 23-1 overall, 10-1 AAC; UConn 13-11, 4-7

Last game: Houston beat Cincinnati 65-58 Sunday; UConn lost at Memphis 78-71 Sunday

Probable starters: Houston, 6-1 sr. guard Galen Robinson Jr. (8.3 pts, 5.3 assists), 6-1 sr. guard Corey Davis, Jr. (15.5 pts, 3.4 assists), 6-3 jr. guard Armoni Brooks (13.8 pts, 6.4 rebs), 6-7 so. forward Fabian White, Jr. (6.2 pts, 3.4 rebs), 6-8 sr. forward Breaon Brady (6.8 pts, 4.7 rebs)

UConn, 6-3 grad guard Tarin Smith (8.6 pts), 6-2 jr. guard Christian Vital (14 pts, 6.1 rebs), 6-7 r-fr. forward Sidney Wilson (4.4 pts, 2.6 rebs), 6-8 so. forward Tyler Polley (7.9 pts, 2.3 rebs), 6-10 so. forward Josh Carlton (8.3 pts, 5.7 rebs)

Noteworthy: UConn lost three of four, AAC leader Houston won eight straight. ... Cougars only loss at Temple, 73-69, Jan. 9. ... Series: UConn trails 6-5, losing four of the last five including last meeting, 81-71 on the road March 4. ... Huskies snapped 15-game losing streak vs. ranked foes with win over No. 15 Syracuse on Nov. 15. Lost to No. 11 Florida State Dec. 8. ... Top reserve: 6-5 r-so guard DeJon Jarreau (8.2 pts, 3.8 rebs). ... Houston 2nd in nation in FG percentage defense (.364), 3rd in 3-pt FG defense (26.9 percent), 9th in rebound margin (7.8), 6th in scoring defense (60.7 pts). ... Davis AAC player of week after averaging 21 pts, 4.5 rebs in two games last week. ... Injury update: Jalen Adams (left knee) out, Alterique Gilbert (left shoulder) doubtful. ... Hot: Polley shooting 45.5 percent (10-for-22) from 3-pt range in last five games. Cold: Reserve Brendan Adams 1-for-12 from field last five games. ... Huskies averaging 81.8 points at home. ... UConn 12-2 at home, Houston 6-1 on road. ... Largest deficit in a win for UConn is only four pts (Cornell, UMKC). ... Houston coach Kelvin Sampson faced Dan Hurley's URI team twice, going 1-1. ... Up next: UConn visits SMU Thursday.

— Gavin Keefe

 


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