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    Tuesday, April 16, 2024

    UConn basketball’s Senior Day will be an emotional one for the Hurleys

    UConn head coach Dan Hurley, left, speaks with his son, Andrew Hurley, after Hurley made a basket in the second half of a game against Xavier on Jan. 28 in Hartford. On Sunday, Andrew Hurley, a walk-on with the Huskies, will take part in Senior Day with the Huskies prior to a game against Seton Hall at Gampel Pavilion. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)
    UConn's Tristen Newton plays against Creighton during the first half of a game Feb. 20 in Omaha, Neb. Creighton defeated UConn 85-66. (Rebecca S. Gratz/AP Photo)
    UConn guard Cam Spencer reacts during a game against Villanova on Feb. 24 in Storrs. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

    Storrs — UConn coach Dan Hurley became emotional on Saturday when the subject of Senior Day came up.

    More specifically, when Hurley talked about his son, Andrew Hurley, a walk-on and one of four players that will be honored before Sunday’s Big East battle between No. 3 UConn (25-3, 15-2) and Seton Hall (18-10, 11-6) at noon at Gampel Pavilion.

    “It’s been impossible not to, a couple of times this week, get a little emotional about it,” said Hurley, who teared up. “Being a coach’s kid, I guess it’s exciting in some ways because it’s great going to the Big East tournament or going to the Final Four. But, when things aren’t going well, it takes a toll on the family.

    “.... I will say this, it makes me so proud of him because he’s been a huge part of the locker room — his relationship with the players and the coaches.”

    The Huskies could have something more to celebrate than the careers of Andrew Hurley, Tristen Newton, Cam Spencer and Hassan Diarra.

    With a win, they would clinch sole possession of the Big East regular-season title. They earned a share of the crown for the first time in 18 years Saturday with second-place Marquette losing at Creighton.

    Hurley says the Huskies are focused on beating the Pirates, who handily won the first meeting, 75-60, on Dec. 20 in the league opener.

    “You just try not to let it creep in,” said Hurley when asked about winning a Big East title. “You just stay focused on your process and preparation. Obviously, we walk around with these different easels that tend to get pretty beat up, especially one like this that you’ve been pursuing for as long as we have.

    “Our mindset right now is to not change much and just focus on what we didn’t do in the first matchup and just try to play at a championship level (Sunday).”

    Since the beginning of the season, UConn has carried around an easel that holds a photo of the Big East regular-season trophy.

    “That’s all we’ve been talking about throughout the regular season,” Newton said. “We think that’s the most important trophy because it shows consistency over 20 games.”

    “Just to get that trophy — 18 years has been a long time. Just to go down in history is going to be one of the great things that we did as a program.”

    All four players being honored on Sunday have played a role in UConn’s success, including helping capture the program’s fifth national championship last April.

    Newton and Diarra, two transfers, both arrived in Storrs together and made important contributions in their two seasons — the former as the starting point guard and latter as a key reserve off the bench.

    A transfer from East Carolina, Newton is a prime candidate for the Big East Player of the Year, leading the team in assists and rebounds per game and tied with Spencer for the scoring lead at 15.2 points.

    “I’ve enjoyed my time here and I love this program,” Newton said. “UConn is one of the greatest programs in NCAA history. Being able to wear the jersey and come out here and play in front of these fans every night is a blessing. It’s everything that I wanted and more.”

    A reserve guard that spent two seasons at Texas A&M before coming to Storrs, Hassan is enjoying a career year, converting personal bests from the field (48.3%) and 3-point range (35.4%). He brings energy and a veteran presence to the team.

    Plus, he’s taken the joy ride with his brother Mamadou, UConn’s director of sports performance.

    “Amazing,” Diarra said. “I can’t even put into words how cool that is.”

    Spencer, a graduate transfer, has made a major impact this season. He’s been a perfect fit and his fiery personality is similar to his head coach’s. He’s had an All-Big East type season.

    “It’s cool,” Spencer said when asked about his impact. “I really just focus on winning and helping the team in any way that I can. I think to leave a big legacy is done through winning championships, which is definitely something that I want to be a part of.”

    Andrew’s role is more behind the scenes where he’s been a great teammate. Both player and coach have cherished their four years together on the court.

    “It was priceless,” Andrew said. “It was something that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It was definitely hard at times, but it was an unbelievable experience.”

    On Sunday, they can help the Huskies finish with an unbeaten home record for the first time in 18 years.

    It won’t be easy.

    Seton Hall has been a thorn in UConn’s side, winning two of the last three meetings. It is an important game for the Pirates, who are considered on the NCAA tournament bubble despite their fourth place standing in the league.

    Hurley called that Dec. 20 loss in the league opener a “rude awakening.” Sophomore Donovan Clingan left that game in the second half with a foot injury.

    Seton Hall shredded UConn’s defense, especially veteran guard Kadary Richmond, who led the Pirates with 23 points, six rebounds, five assists and eight steals.

    “He’s a big, talented physical guard that can hurt you in so many different ways,” Hurley said. “It was a pretty ridiculous performance.”

    News and notes

    Of the four seniors, only Newton and Spencer will be out of eligibility after this season. Diarra has another year left but hasn’t made a decision on his future.

    Given their projected NBA Draft status as potential lottery picks, it also could potentially be the last home game for Clingan and freshman Stephon Castle while redshirt sophomore Alex Karaban also could have a decision to make.

    Those conversations can wait until after March Madness.

    “We’re not thinking that far ahead,” Hurley said. “The only players I’ve really addressed their future with would be the freshmen, either they’re not playing as much as they’d like or younger players, (talking to them) about don’t put yourself too far ahead. There’s no rush to get in the (transfer) portal.

    “... And the players that maybe are younger and buzzing with the draft, stay in the moment, finish the season, stay connected to what we’re doing, don’t think about those things.

    “For guys like Tristen, Hass, Andrew and Cam, this is a big game but we’ve got bigger things, too, that we’re trying to accomplish, that there’s going to be plenty of time a month or six weeks from now for you to go and kiss midcourt in Gampel.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

    Seton Hall at No. 3 UConn

    Location: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs

    Tip time: Noon (CBS)

    Records: UConn 25-3, 15-2; Seton Hall 18-10, 11-6

    Last game: UConn beat Villanova, 78-54, Feb. 24; Seton Hall lost at Creighton, 85-64, Wednesday

    Series: UConn leads, 48-23, losing last meeting 75-60 on Dec. 20 in Newark, N.J.

    Probable starters: UConn, 6-5 graduate guard Tristen Newton (15.2 pts, 7.3 rebs, 5.9 assists), 6-4 graduate guard Cam Spencer (15.2 pts, 4.6 rebs), 6-6 fr. guard Stephon Castle (10.9 pts, 4.3 rebs), 6-8 r-so. forward Alex Karaban (13.9 pts, 5.2 rebs), 7-2 so. center Donovan Clingan (12.3 pts, 6.5 rebs, 2.1 blks)

    Seton Hall, 6-6 sr. guard Kadary Richmond (16.3 pts, 6.8 rebs, 4.9 assists), 6-2 sr. guard Al-Amir Dawes (14.5 pts, 2.5 rebs), 6-4 sr. guard Dylan Addae-Wusu (7.9 pts, 5.5 rebs), 6-6 sr. forward Dre Davis (14.2 pts, 5.8 rebs), 6-10 grad forward Jaden Bediako (8.6 pts, 7.5 rebs)

    Noteworthy: Regular-season home finale for the Huskies, who are trying to go undefeated at home for the first time since going 16-0 in 2005-06. … Hurley holds a 5-4 record vs. his alma mater. ... In the first meeting this season, Clingan left the game with a foot injury in the second half of the Big East opener. Huskies shot 37.9% and were outscored by 10 in the final 20 minutes. … UConn has not been swept in a season series by Seton Hall since 1992-93. … Top reserve: 6-5 fr. guard Isaiah Coleman (5.8 pts, 2.6 rebs). … Seton Hall one of three teams to shoot 50% percent or better vs. UConn, which lost all three times. … Hot: Spencer third in the nation in 3-pt FG% at 44.6. Cold: Karaban 5-for-25 from the field, including 3-for-16 from 3-pt range in the last three games, averaging 5.7 points during that span. … With a win, UConn would have the most Big East wins in a season for the program since going 16-2 in 1998-99. … In the NCAA NET rankings, UConn sits at No. 4, Seton Hall at No. 64. Huskies 22-0 when leading at halftime. … UConn 15-0 at home, Seton Hall 5-5 on the road. … Up next: UConn visits Marquette Wednesday in Milwaukee.

    – Gavin Keefe

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