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    Saturday, July 13, 2024

    Hurley brings his Huskies back to reality

    UConn head coach Dan Hurley, middle, celebrates with his team after the 82-54 win against Gonzaga in the West Region final of the NCAA tournament on Saturday in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    Storrs – Coach Dan Hurley jumped on his team during practice Tuesday at the Werth Center, roughly 24 hours before UConn will board a flight for Houston and the Final Four.

    The Huskies got the message.

    “He woke us up and he brought us back to reality,” redshirt freshman Alex Karaban said, “because you can hear all the outside noise and all the compliments that you get. But he’s the one that brings us back.”

    They’re still riding high from rolling past Gonzaga in the West Region Elite Eight in Las Vegas and advancing to the program’s sixth Final Four and a national semifinal game against fifth-seeded Miami at NRG Stadium.

    Just in case they needed a reminder, Hurley drove home his point that the focus is now completely on trying to win a national championship.

    “It’s not over,” senior Tristen Newton said. “Our goal was to always win a national championship. We’ve still got to win two games to get there. We still have to do what we did to get to this point and execute at a high level.”

    Distractions only increase at this elite stage of the NCAA tournament.

    “They’ve got to get their heads out of their phones,” Hurley said. “There’s obviously a lot of media and attention that comes with this. It’s great for the university, it’s great for the basketball program. When you get on this stage, it’s a great opportunity for everyone.

    “But we’ve got to be focused on the work. We’ve got like 101 hours – no one is counting – until we play. And we need to be completely immersed when we’re not in front of (the media) in our work and preparation for a great Miami team.”

    Hurley and his Huskies will be making their first Final Four appearance.

    “I definitely have to continue to pinch myself,” Karaban said. “I think I’ve moved on from that feeling a little just because that Final Four feeling was great and unbelievable. But I can only imagine what the national championship feeling will feel like.”

    It’s a crazy time and difficult for any Final Four newcomer to really prepare for everything that will happen in the days ahead.

    Hurley has reached out to Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, who’ve won a combined 14 national championships. He’s also talked to retired coaches Jay Wright (Villanova) and Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) for information.

    “I’ve been just mining coach Coach Calhoun for information, advice, wisdom, especially in the last month but recently on overdrive just to try to squeeze every bit of information from him,” Hurley said. “He’s been a fixture here and he’ll be back before we go for one last message to the boys and he’ll be with us (in Houston).

    “Then, obviously, Geno has been an incredible resource since I’ve been here. He’s obviously been helpful getting ready for this weekend. For me, Jay Wright has been great to me and Coach K with their Final Four experience. And then I have my own people – my brother, my Dad, Seth Greenberg, people that give me great advice as a coach, really smart people that I respect.”

    Castle in McDonald’s All-American game

    Future Husky Stephon Castle, a member of UConn’s top five ranked recruiting class, already is in Houston. He was set to play in the 46th Annual McDonald’s All-American game Tuesday night.

    Hurley planned to watch the game.

    He talked about Castle’s performance in the dunk contest and workouts.

    “Steph was unbelievable in the scrimmage,” Hurley said. “I don’t know if I can put him in the First Night dunk (competition) after last night. He had problems. I just think he strategically made some mistakes. … More importantly, he’s been great. People are raving about him this week. And the fact that he’s in Houston is pretty cool.”

    New poster on display

    UConn has made a habit this season of carrying around a poster with a photo of a trophy that the team is competing for at different stages.

    First, it was a trophy for winning the Phil Knight Invitational last November. The Huskies ended up taking home the real thing.

    Then they switched to the Big East regular season trophy, then to the Big East tournament trophy, West Region trophy and now it’s the national championship trophy.

    “We’ve got a new picture over there,” freshman Donovan Clingan said. “That’s the next goal. We got the last trophy last weekend. Now we’re working for the big one.”

    “When you’re looking at that trophy, we could have the real one, not a picture of it. We’ve just got to be ready to play on Saturday and we’ll be good.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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