Upset-minded UConn men take aim at No. 10 Marquette
Hartford — It seemed fitting that Alex Karaban and Donovan Clingan met with the media Monday to talk about UConn’s important game against Big East co-leader Marquette.
The two first-year frontcourt players were the only Huskies to play well in the first meeting back on Jan. 11 in Milwaukee, combining for 37 points and 17 rebounds in an 82-76 loss.
The Huskies led by double digits in the first half and four at halftime before defensive breakdowns cost them a shot of earning a valuable road win. The Golden Eagles shot 60 percent in the second half.
“It was a tough one for us,” Karaban said. “We didn’t win and we didn’t play how UConn really plays like.”
The anticipated rematch will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday (FS1) at the XL Center, where UConn practiced on Monday.
“We’re going to have to play a whole lot better, especially on the defensive end,” coach Dan Hurley said.
The game kicks off a challenging week for the 21st-ranked Huskies (18-6, 7-6), who will visit No. 23 Creighton Saturday after hosting No. 10 Marquette (19-5, 11-2), winners of five straight.
The Huskies, who reside in sixth place, have struggled against the top five teams in the Big East, going 1-5. They’ll have a chance to reverse that troubling trend in the final seven games, starting Tuesday night.
They’re riding momentum from winning two straight on the road, beating DePaul and Georgetown.
“It’s a get-back week for us,” Karaban said. “We can’t get swept like we did against Xavier. We’ve got to beat them at our home court and protect it. We all know what Creighton is about. Just playing on the road will be a big test for us, too.
“Just continue to build up our resume. We had some bad losses during the season. So, if we can get a win against No. 10 Marquette and get another against No. 23 Creighton, we will get back a little more than we’ve lost.”
At different points during the season, Karaban and Clingan have hit the freshman wall that comes with playing for the first time in the fiercely competitive and physical Big East.
Karaban believes he’s bounced back while Clingan is still in the process of recovering from his collison with the freshman wall.
Since his breakout 20-point, 10-rebound performance at Marquette, Clingan hasn’t scored more than seven points in each of the last six games.
“I think I did hit a little bit of a wall,” Clingan said. “I’m not letting that get to my head. I feel like I’m starting to come out of it. … I’ve had some good games and some bad games. I’m just going to keep working. There’s no other answer for that. Just gotta take advantage of every single minute that I get.”
As UConn found out in its last game against Marquette, it will take more than a strong performance from Karaban and Clingan to secure a significant win on Tuesday.
Marquette is the surprise of the Big East, challenging for the regular season title after being picked ninth in the league coaches’ preseason poll. Point guard Tyler Kolek has done a masterful job directing the offense and emerged as a Big East player of the year candidate. He’s one of 10 players still in the running for the Bob Cousy Award that goes to the nation’s top point guard.
The Golden Eagles have a balanced, potent attack, led by leading scorer Kam Jones (15.7 points), one of five players to average in double figures. They also operate an active and disruptive defense that is averaging 9.5 steals per game (10th in the country).
“We’re really excited to play this one here in Hartford (Tuesday) night,” Hurley said. “I feel like we’re going to get a great crowd. We know it’s going to be a high level game. Those are much more exciting than those games where you’re a huge, huge favorite. … These are not the ones that you’re anxious about or nervous about even though the quality of the opponent is high.
“You’re just excited to be playing in a big game in February.”
UConn will have a good luck charm on its side in the form of Karaban’s scruffy beard.
The Huskies are 2-0 since Karaban started growing his beard.
“It’s the playoff beard,” Karaban said. “I’m currently not allowed to shave it. Coach Hurley and all the coaches are making a big emphasis on me to keep it. So, I’m going to keep it for now.”
Hurley added: "It makes him look like even a better player.”
In other news, Karaban earned his league best fifth Big East freshman of the week honor.
“It doesn't get old,” Karaban said. “It just keeps me motivated and keeps me going. It’s all based on the team. If we’re not winning, then I’m not getting the award.”
No. 21 UCONN vs. No. 10 MARQUETTE
Location: XL Center, Hartford
Tip: 6:30 p.m. (FS1)
Records: UConn 18-6, 7-6; Marquette 19-5, 11-2
Last game: UConn won at Georgetown, 68-62, Saturday; Marquette defeated Butler, 60-52, Saturday
Probable starters: UConn, 6-5 sr. guard Tristen Newton (10.5 pts, 4 rebs, 4 assists), 6-6 jr. guard Andre Jackson (5.9 pts, 6.3 rebs, 4.5 assists), 6-5 so. guard Jordan Hawkins (16.3 pts, 3.9 rebs), 6-8 r-fr. forward Alex Karaban (9.7 pts, 4.1 rebs), 6-9 jr. forward Adama Sanogo (17.2 pts, 7.2 rebs)
Marquette, 6-3 jr. guard Tyler Kolek (11.3 pts, 4.3 rebs, 7.9 assists), 6-4 so. guard Kam Jones (15.7 pts, 3.5 rebs), 6-2 so. guard Stevie Mitchell (6.6 pts, 2.6 rebs)), 6-8 jr. forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper (13.5 pts, 4.6 rebs), 6-9 jr. forward Oso Ighodaro (11.8 pts, 6 rebs)
Noteworthy: UConn won three of four, Marquette won a season-high tying five straight. … Series Tied at 7-7, with Marquette taking the first meeting, 82-76, in Milwaukee on Jan. 11. … Golden Eagles 4-3 vs. Huskies on the road, including 3-1 at XL Center. … Marquette off to its best league start since going 12-2 in 2018-19. … Huskies 1-3 vs. ranked foes this season. … Top reserve: 6-7 so. forward David Joplin (10.2 pts, 3.5 rebs). … As of Sunday, Marquette ranked first in Big East and 10th in the country in steals per game at 9.5. … UConn 11-2 at home, Marquette 5-3 on the road. … Sanogo and Kolek both earned spots on the Big East’s weekly honor roll. … Hot: Newton has scored in double figures in a season-high five straight games, averaging 16.2 pts. Cold: UConn’s bench has been out-scored in four straight games, averaging just 12.2 pts. … In Big East games, Hawkins first in scoring at 17.5, Kolek in assists at 7.9. … As of Monday, UConn at No. 7 in NCAA NET rankings, Marquette No. 14. … Up next: UConn visits Creighton at 2 p.m. Saturday.
– Gavin Keefe