No. 19 UConn men ready for another shot at No. 13 Xavier
UConn entered the season firmly believing it belonged among the Big East title contenders.
The results haven’t backed that up so far.
The fifth-place Huskies are 1-3 against the league’s top four teams, with all three losses coming on the road. Their only win came at home against Creighton in Storrs.
No. 19 UConn will a shot at avenging those defeats during the second half of the Big East season, starting Wednesday when No. 13 Xavier visits Storrs at 6:30 p.m.
The Huskies will put their 17-game unbeaten streak at Gampel Pavilion on the line against the Big East leader.
“We’re going to have to play at a high level,” coach Dan Hurley said. “Excited to play in Gampel. We’ve played really well there.”
The Musketeers (16-4, 8-1) won the first meeting, 83-73, on Dec. 31 in Cincinnati.
“They handed us our first loss, so that definitely rings some bells when you think about it,” junior Andre Jackson said. “It’s always just motivation to get the team back. If they get you, you don’t want to get swept by anybody. That’s not acceptable, especially here at UConn.”
At that time, it was UConn’s first loss and ended up starting a freefall.
Sunday’s feel-good rout of Butler provided some much-needed momentum and a confidence booster.
“It’s the best we’ve played in awhile,” Hurley said.
Their solid all-around performance came against one of the worst teams in the league.
The true test of whether the Huskies (16-5, 5-5) have truly rediscovered their groove will come against Xavier, which has won 12 of its last 13 games, the only loss at DePaul (73-73) on Wednesday.
Xavier has one of the best starting lineups in the country. All five players average in double figures, led by Big East player of the year candidate Souley Boum (16.6 points).
“They’ve got weapons all around,” guard Joey Calcaterra said, “so we’ve just got to be ready to go. It’s going to be a big opportunity for us to get back on track to where we want to go. We’ve been working hard to make sure that we’re ready to go.”
UConn did a good job on Boum in the first meeting, limiting him to 11 points on 3 for 10 shooting. But veteran forwards Zach Freemantle (16 points, 11 rebounds) and Jack Nunge (15 points) delivered punishment while Jerome Hunter contributed 15 points off the bench.
No team has shot the ball better this season against the Huskies than the high-powered Musketeers, who converted at a 53.8 percent clip. UConn led by one at half before fading late.
Xavier ranks first in Big East play in scoring (85.2 points), 3-point field goal percentage (38.4) and assists per game (21.9) and second in field goal percentage (49.5).
“Obviously, they’re having a great conference season,” Hurley said. “We made a lot of mistakes in that game, both ends of the court, on the backboard and still found ourselves late in the game having a chance to win it.”
A repeat performance in the rematch will likely lead to a repeat result for UConn.
The Huskies are counting on their home crowd to be a difference-maker on Wednesday.
“We love playing these good teams here at home,” Calcaterra said. “Playing at Gampel is going to help give us that boost that we’re going to need.”
In the final 10 league games, UConn will also get a shot at redemption against Marquette and Providence, which both won the first meeting, on its home court.
Marquette visits Hartford Feb. 7 and Providence come to Storrs Feb. 22.
News and notes
Future Husky Stephon Castle, a 6-foot-6 guard from Covington, Ga., was named to the McDonald’s All-American team. “Congrats to Steph and the Castle family,” Hurley said. “Excited to coach a kid like that.” … Calcaterra, who’s converted 27.5 percent from the field in Big East play, on what he needs to do to break out of his shooting funk: “Keep shooting. They’re going to fall, so I’m not too worried about that. It’s important for me to take the right ones.” He’s a bit banged up after spraining his thumb and left ankle against St. John’s on Jan. 15, but refuses to use that as an excuse for his recent struggles. … Sophomore forward Samson Johnson, who returned on Sunday for the first time since being injured in the season opener, will still be on a minutes restriction. “Adding another super athletic guy, I think he’s going to bring a lot to the team,” Jackson said.
Location: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs
Tip: 6:30 p.m. (FS1)
Records: UConn 16-5, 5-5; Xavier 16-4, 8-1
Last game: UConn beat Butler, 86-56, Sunday; Xavier defeated Georgetown, 95-82, Saturday
Probable starters: UConn, 6-5 sr. guard Tristen Newton (9.1 pts, 4 rebs, 4 assists), 6-6 jr. guard Andre Jackson (6 pts, 6.2 rebs, 4.6 assists), 6-5 so. guard Jordan Hawkins (15.5 pts, 3.9 rebs), 6-8 r-fr. forward Alex Karaban (10.1 pts, 4.2 rebs), 6-9 jr. forward Adama Sanogo (17.2 pts, 7.1 rebs)
Xavier, 6-4 sr. guard Adam Kunkel (10.6 pts), 6-3 grad guard Souley Boum (16.6 pts, 4.2 rebs, 5.1 assists), 6-6 jr. guard Colby Jones (14.3 pts, 5 rebs, 5.2 assists), 6-9 sr. forward Zach Freemantle (15.4 pts, 8.5 rebs), 7-0 grad forward Jack Nunge (14.5 pts, 8.1 rebs)
Noteworthy: UConn trying to win two straight for first since beating Villanova and Georgetown on Dec. 20 and Dec. 28, respectively. … Series: Tied 3-3, with UConn losing first meeting this season 83-73 at Xavier. Musketeers shot 53.8 percent and had five players score in double figures. … Xavier losses to Indiana, Duke, Gonzaga, DePaul. … Boum a strong contender for league player of the year honors, Sean Miller a candidate for league’s top coach. … Top reserve: 6-8 sr. forward Jerome Hunter (5.9 pts, 3.6 rebs). … Freemantle earned spot on Big East honor roll after averaging 24 pts, 11.5 rebs and 3.5 assists last week. … … Hot: Hawkins averaging 21.3 pts in last three games. Cold: Jackson averaging 3.0 pts in last three games. … UConn 11-1 at home, Xavier 4-1 on the road. … Huskies 1-2 vs. ranked teams, beating Alabama and losing to Xavier and Marquette. … Sanogo scored in double figures in a season-high tying seven straight games. … Frontcourt depth improved with the return of Samson Johnson vs. Butler. … Karaban earned fourth Big East freshman of the week honor. … Up next: UConn plays three of the next four games on the road, starting at DePaul on Tuesday.
– Gavin Keefe
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