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    Tuesday, March 05, 2024

    UConn men ready for their big test at Kansas

    UConn head coach Dan Hurley speaks with Official Kipp Kissinger in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
    UConn guard Tristen Newton before an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
    Kansas head coach Bill Self calls directions to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina Central in Lawrence, Kan., Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

    This isn’t just another regular season game.

    On Friday at a sold-out Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas, college basketball’s last two national champions will meet at 9 p.m. in a Big East-Big 12 Battle game.

    No. 4 UConn (7-0) vs. No. 5 Kansas (6-1).

    Two of the blueblood programs in college basketball.

    Perfectly fits the description of a marquee matchup.

    The defending national champion Huskies are thrilled about facing the Jayhawks, who won the title in 2022.

    “Definitely very excited,” graduate transfer Cam Spencer said. “It’s one that we’ve had circled on our calendars for awhile. Kansas is a great team and Allen Fieldhouse is definitely a tough place to play. I think we’re well-prepared. We’ll go in there for a battle and hopefully come out victorious.”

    UConn and Kansas are similar in many ways.

    Both teams have reloaded after losing key players.

    The Huskies and Jayhawks make a living off elite defense, relentless rebounding and sharing the basketball. Kansas leads the nation in assists per game at 24.1

    “They have a great system,” graduate guard Tristen Newton said. “They know how to win, so it’s going to be a true test and something we’re looking forward to.”

    UConn and Kansas have talented starting lineups and feature skilled 7-foot-2 big men – UConn sophomore Donovan Clingan and Kansas senior Hunter Dickinson, a preseason All-American.

    But they’re still developing depth and rely on freshmen to provide quality minutes with mixed results so far.

    While the Huskies and Jayhawks operate potent attacks, the former averaging 88.7 points (12th in the country) and the latter 81.3, perimeter shooting is a mild concern.

    “Both teams will be a lot better in February, March and April than we are right now,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said.

    Kansas coach Bill Self told local reporters on Thursday that he doesn’t see a lot of glaring deficiencies in UConn.

    “They’ve got all the pieces,” Self said. “Even though they haven’t shot it great yet from the arc, they’ve got shooters. They've got size and length. They’ve got experience and toughness. They’re a complete team. They could win it again this year.”

    There’s no doubt that the two programs could meet down the road in the NCAA tournament.

    A win Friday would certainly improve UConn’s resume and go down as one of the program’s best road victories.

    Playing their first true road game this season, the Huskies are confident they’ll be able to handle the hostile atmosphere.

    “Our program is going to put these games in their proper perspective,” Hurley said. “Our experience from last year, I think all of us coaches and players, winning the national championship and accomplishing the best that you can do at this level, I would say we’re not going into these types of games with the same level of anxiety and nerves. We’re obviously very excited and we’re very desperate to be successful.

    “When you’ve won the way we did last year, I think there is a collective confidence that we have in what we do. Obviously, this is a tall task. But, we feel what we do is going to be very successful this year.”

    It will be the first of three games versus top 20 teams this month for the Huskies, who play No. 17 North Carolina Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York and travel to Seattle to face No. 11 Gonzaga on Dec. 15.

    The Huskies will certainly know where they stand in the national picture after this brutally tough stretch.

    “It’s going to be fun,” Hurley said. “Where we’re at now, we’re playing against other programs that are vying to be at the top of the sport. Now we’re playing Kansas on the road. Both of us want to be the premier program in college basketball and now we meet on Friday night on the road.”

    UConn will be attempting to win a non-conference road game against a top five opponent for the first time since beating No. 4 Stanford in February 1999.

    g.keefe@theday.com

    No. 4 UCONN at No. 5 KANSAS

    Location: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kansas.

    Tip time: 9 p.m. (ESPN2)

    Records: UConn 7-0, Kansas 6-1

    Last game: UConn beat New Hampshire, 84-64, Monday; Kansas defeated Eastern Illinois, 71-63, Tuesday

    Series: UConn trails, 3-0, losing last meeting 73-61, in the 2016 NCAA tournament second round.

    Probable starters: UConn, 6-5 graduate guard Tristen Newton (15.6 pts, 8.1 rebs, 6.8 assists), 6-6 graduate guard Cam Spencer (16.3 pts, 3.3 rebs), 6-3 fr. guard Solo Ball (6 pts, 2.7 rebs), 6-8 r-so. forward Alex Karaban (14.6 pts, 5.7 rebs), 7-2 so. center Donovan Clingan (15 pts, 6 rebs)

    Kansas, 6-2 r-sr. guard Dajuan Harris (6 pts, 7.4 assists), 6-3 fr. guard Elmarko Jackson (5.7 pts), 6-7 graduate guard Kevin McCullar, Jr., (18.1 pts, 7.3 rebs), 6-7 jr. forward KJ Adams, Jr., (10.9 pts, 3.4 rebs), 7-2 sr. center Hunter Dickinson (21.7 pts, 12.7 rebs)

    Noteworthy: Huskies own 13 game winning streak dating back to last season. … UConn has won only one non-conference road game against a top five opponent in program history, beating Stanford, 70-59, Feb. 6, 1999. … Kansas’ lone loss to Marquette (73-59) on Nov. 21. Best wins vs. Kentucky (89-84), Tennessee (69-60). … Common foes: Manhattan (UConn won 90-6, Kansas won 99-61). … Dickinson leads the nation in rebounding. … Top reserve: 6-9 fr. guard Johnny Furphy (5.9 pts, 2.6 rebs). … Guard Nicholas Timberlake visited UConn after entering the portal before choosing Kansas. He’s averaging 4.1 points and shooting 35.7 percent from the field. … Jayhawks own a 302-17 mark at Allen Fieldhouse during coach Bill Self’s tenure. … Hot: Newton averaging 16 pts, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in the last two games. Cold: UConn shooting 30.9 percent from 3-pt land. Take away Spencer’s 47.8 percent (22 for 46), and the number drops to 25 percent. … Injury update: Stephon Castle (knee) out. … First trip to Allen Fieldhouse for UConn. ... Up next: UConn plays No. 17 North Carolina Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. Game time is 9 p.m.

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