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    Tuesday, February 07, 2023

    Hurley on the hype surrounding UConn’s strong start: ‘No one is drinking the poison’

    UConn's Andre Jackson (44) and UNC Wilmington forward Eric Van Der Heijden (1) fight for control of the ball during a Nov. 18 game at Gampel Paviion in Storrs. The No. 8 Huskies host Oklahoma State on Thursday in the Big East-Big 12 Battle. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

    Storrs — When UConn arrived in Oregon for the Phil Knight Invitational last week, the Huskies were a team with enormous potential.

    Now, after winning the early season tournament, they’re a ranked eighth in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll and being hyped as a potential contender for the national championship.

    That’s if you listen to the hype ... or anything posted on social media.

    “No one is drinking the poison,” coach Dan Hurley said after Wednesday’s practice. “No one thought we were good. We were not ranked and no one had us in the top 25. Everyone knew who was on our team. … No one thought we were any good. That’s our mentality. We have a chip on our shoulder.

    “This thing can get away from you quickly, too, if you stray from your formula.”

    Off to its best start since winning its first nine to open the 2013-14 national championship season, UConn (8-0) has a new challenge, and that’s blocking out the outside noise and continuing to do the things that lifted the Huskies to this elite level.

    They’ll get their first test on Thursday when Oklahoma State (5-2) visits for a Big East-Big 12 Battle at Gampel Pavilion (6:30 p.m., FS1).

    Junior Andre Jackson pointed out that the best team right now might not be the best team in March.

    “We have to stick to the script, stick to our roles and stick to our identity,” Jackson said. “That’s basically what it is, every day coming to practice and just ready to go.

    “Nothing really changes from here on out. Just every day, take it day by day and try to become a better team every single day.”

    Perhaps the biggest surprise so far is the Huskies, who returned only five players and brought in eight newcomers, have quickly developed a strong team chemistry.

    They’ve won every game by double digits (an average margin of victory of 26 points) and have quality victories over Oregon, (now No. 11) Alabama and (now No. 23) Iowa State. They’ve overwhelmed opponents with their superior depth.

    “I just don’t know if we thought that it could come together as quickly as it has,” Hurley said. “I felt like there could be some struggles in the non-conference because of the newness and the lack of chemistry in the group. … You knew the potential was there with this group in terms of what the quality could be at some point.

    “So, that was the fear that before we could mesh and get through the adversity and learn and grow could things be so negative around a place like this that probably doesn’t handle losing early in the season very well.”

    Why were the Huskies able to avoid that and even win early on with Jackson and Jordan Hawkins sidelined with injuries?

    “These guys played at a very high level,” Hurley said. “They stepped up. … There’s an unselfishness about the group. The buy-in and the leadership that Andre and Adama (Sanogo) has provided has helped a lot.”

    Jackson added: “We’re all locked into one plan and one agenda. Nobody has any ulterior motives. We’re willing to sacrifice our own success for team success, and that’s the biggest thing when you’re trying to win.”

    Oklahoma State has the kind of veteran team that could give UConn problems.

    The Cowboys are talented, tough and rebound well. They’re deep in the backcourt and 7-foot-1 forward Moussa Cisse, who averages 10 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.6 blocks, anchors the frontcourt on both ends.

    Hurley called OSU an NCAA tournament quality team.

    “It’s going to be our toughest game of the year,” Hurley said. “We’ve got to be really ready to go. … Their level of physicality and athleticism is jarring.”

    In other team news, sophomore forward Samson Johnson (foot injury), is making progress. He’s expected to ramp up his activity but he’s still not ready to participate in practice. Hurley hopes Johnson will return to sometime in December. “Potentially, if there are no setbacks,” Hurley said.

    g.keefe@theday.com

    GAME CAPSULE

    No. 8 UCONN vs. OKLAHOMA STATE

    Location: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs

    Tip: 6:30 p.m. (FS1)

    Records: UConn 8-0, Oklahoma State 5-2

    Last game: UConn beat Iowa State, 71-53, in the Phil Knight Invitational championship Sunday in Portland; Oklahoma State defeated Prairie View A&M, 78-53, Sunday

    Probable starters; UConn, 6-5 sr. guard Tristen Newton (12.6 pts, 5 rebs, 4.6 assists), 6-4 sr. guard Nahiem Alleyne (6.8 pts), 6-5 so. guard Jordan Hawkins (11.2 pts), 6-8 r-fr. forward Alex Karaban (10.4 pts, 3.5 rebs), 6-9 jr. forward Adama Sanogo (18.5 pts, 7.0 rebs)

    Oklahoma State, 6-3 sr. guard Avery Anderson (12.7 pts, 3.3 assists), 6-1 sr. guard John-Michael Wright (9.9 pts), 6-6 jr. guard Bryce Thompson (11 pts, 3.6 rebs), 6-9 sr. forward Kalib Boone (9.6 pts), 7-1 jr. center Moussa Cisse (10 pts, 10.6 rebs, 3.6 blks)

    Noteworthy: UConn won eight straight, Oklahoma State won three in a row. … Series: UConn trails 2-0, losing 80-64 in the 1970 Bayou Classic and 98-90 in 2016 Maui Invitational. … Cowboys return four starters from last season’s 15-15 team. Went 8-12 in the Big 12. … Fifth-year coach Mike Boynton has New York roots and grew up a fan of the Big East. … Anderson an All-Big 12 third team selection last season. … Top reserves: 6-3 r-sr. guard Caleb Asberry (7.9 pts, 3.1 rebs), 6-9 r-jr. forward Tyreek Smith (7 pts, 4.3 rebs). … OSU leads the Big 12 in blocks per game. Opponents shooting 36 percent from the field. Out-rebound foes by 8 per game. … Cowboys’ losses to Southern Illinois and Central Florida. … Hot: Karaban has scored in double figures in all but one game. … Cold: Alleyne shooting 37.5 percent overall, 24.1 percent from three (7 for 29). … Ten Huskies averaging double figure minutes. Three different players led the team in scoring the last three games – Clingan, Sanogo, Newton. … UConn riding 13-game winning streak at Gampel. … Injury update: Samson Johnson (foot) out indefinitely. … Next up: UConn plays its first true road game of the season on Wednesday night, visiting Florida.

    Gavin Keefe

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