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    Tuesday, April 23, 2024

    No. 11 UConn begins Big East tourney title pursuit against rival Providence

    UConn head coach Dan Hurley is confident the Big East tournament, and the post-season in general, will bring out the best in his team, starting with Thursday’s quarterfinal round matchup with Providence at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    New York — UConn will carry championship hopes and the burden of playing for a program with a rich history of post-season success into its Big East tournament opener on Thursday.

    The program’s glory days are more part of the past than the present.

    The seven-time Big East tournament champion Huskies haven’t advanced past the semifinals of a conference tournament, including their former American Athletic Conference home, in coach Dan Hurley’s first four seasons in Storrs.

    Prior to Hurley, UConn won only one AAC tournament championship (2016) in seven years in the league. The Huskies last emerged from the annual battle of the Big East neighborhood with a tourney title in 2011.

    They’re determined to go on a title run this week, starting with facing fifth-seeded Providence (21-10) at 2:30 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden, a place that’s been a second home for them.

    “I want to win so bad, so bad,” junior Adama Sanogo said. “The last couple of years, March has not been good for us. So, this month, we have a chance to do it again. We have to make sure we can do something good.”

    Winners of eight of their last nine, the fourth-seeded Huskies (24-7) are playing well enough to pull it off.

    Whether they can complete their mission may depend on how they handle the glaring spotlight and pressure-packed stage.

    “Some programs go into these tournaments carrying more pressure,” Hurley said. “When you play at UConn and coach at UConn, the trick is to get your players really joyful and excited to play and not carry the history and tradition of playing great in these tournaments as an extra burden.

    “That’s something that we probably have to manage more than the people that we play against that don’t have that type of history and tradition. It can’t become an anchor for us. … It’s my job to keep everybody loose, but not so loose that we don’t play with intensity but not so uptight that we don’t play with joy.”

    Hurley said earlier this week that finding that balance is a challenge. And he admitted that his team has been a bit uptight in past post-season games.

    This team is different, Hurley said, adding, “I think this group has the attitude and confidence.

    Hurley and the Huskies will find out on Thursday.

    Providence is the first obstacle. The Friars have their own concerns after ending the regular season with two straight home losses. They’ve lost their defensive edge, allowing over 80 points in three of their last four games.

    “They went through a little bit of what we went through (in January),” Hurley said. “When you’re not playing well, you’re going to lose in this league. Also, it’s a fresh start and a reset that you get going to the Big East tournament and playing in New York. … We know we’re going to see the best version of them. Hopefully, we see the best version of us.”

    The Friars have proven that they can beat the Huskies, winning the first meeting 73-61 at home on Jan. 4 before losing the rematch 87-69 in Storrs on Feb. 22. The team that won the rebounding battle came out on top in both games.

    “They’re a good team and a tough team,” said sophomore Jordan Hawkins, who missed last year’s Big East tournament due to a concussion. “But they’re just in our way.”

    Hawkins, a Big East first team selection, has the potential to be a major difference maker. He’s grown into a lethal offensive weapon and plays with a fearless mentality.

    “Hawkins is not going to lose sleep before these games,” Hurley said. “He’s a gunslinger and he believes that March is going to be a big month for us and a big month for him.”

    The Big East tournament will be a new experience for nearly everyone on the UConn roster. Only Sanogo and junior Andre Jackson have previously played in the postseason event.

    The Huskies believe they’re capable of dealing with the post-season pressure.

    “I don’t think we think about it too much,” redshirt freshman Alex Karaban said. “We’re just excited to be going into a new season where if we lose, we’re done. We’re excited for it, but I don’t think we really have any pressure.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

    No. 11 UCONN vs. PROVIDENCE

    Location: Madison Square Garden, New York

    Tip: 2:30 p.m. (FS1)

    Records: UConn 24-7, Providence 21-10

    Last game: UConn won at Villanova, 71-59, Saturday; Providence lost to Seton Hall, 82-58, Saturday

    Probable starters: UConn, 6-5 sr. guard Tristen Newton (10.1 pts, 4.2 rebs, 4.5 assists), 6-6 jr. guard Andre Jackson (6.8 pts, 6.4 rebs, 4.3 assists), 6-5 so. guard Jordan Hawkins (16.4 pts, 3.9 rebs), 6-8 r-fr. forward Alex Karaban (9.7 pts, 4.4 rebs), 6-9 jr. forward Adama Sanogo (16.9 pts, 7.2 rebs)

    Providence, 5-10 grad guard Jared Bynum (10.1 pts, 4.4 assists), 6-3 grad guard Noah Locke (11 pts, 2.4 rebs), 6-3 so. guard Devin Carter (13.3 pts, 5 rebs), 6-7 so. forward Bryce Hopkins (16.1 pts, 8.5 rebs), 6-8 r-sr. forward Ed Croswell (13.4 pts, 7.7 rebs)

    Noteworthy: UConn seeded fourth, PC fifth in Big East tourney quarterfinal. … First meeting between the two programs in the Big East tournament since 1998 and fifth time overall. … Series: UConn leads series, 46-31, splitting regular season meetings, each winning at home. Teams are 2-2 in the league tourney. … Statistic to watch: Rebounding. Huskies won battle of the boards by 20 in win, lost by two in loss. … Top reserve: 6-3 jr. guard Alyn Breed (5 pts, 2.5 rebs). … Friars have won two league tourney titles (1994, 2014), Huskies with seven (2011, 2004, 2002, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1990), one shy of all-time tourney title leader Georgetown. … NCAA NET Ratings: UConn 6th, PC 53rd. … Game features three Big East first team selections in Hopkins, Hawkins, Sanogo. … UConn will be playing its 127th game at MSG, holding a 67-59 record there. … Hot: Jackson is averaging 11 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists during UConn’s five-game winning streak. Cold: Huskies committed double digit turnovers in 10 straight games. … In 35 Big East tourney appearances, UConn is 38-28. PC is 25-39 all-time. … Hawkins has scored 20 points or more 13 times this season … During its five game winning streak, UConn averaged 81 points and allowed 65.5. … Up next: If UConn wins, it will face either top-seeded Marquette or No. 8 St. John’s in Friday’s semifinal at 6:30 p.m.

    Gavin Keefe

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