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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    Hurley keeping the pressure on his team as UConn visits Marquette for a top 10 showdown

    UConn head coach Dan Hurley, left, high-fives center Donovan Clingan in the second half of Sunday’s game in Storrs. UConn defeated Seton Hall to clinch the Big East Conference regular-season title. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)
    UConn celebrates winning its first outright Big East regular-season title in 25 years after Sunday afternoon’s game against Seton Hall. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

    Don’t think for a nanosecond that Dan Hurley will ease up on his team with a Big East regular season title locked up and only two regular-season games remaining.

    Hurley coaches full throttle, all the time.

    “You play with a level of desperation in every game to win it,” Hurley said Tuesday. “I personally feel like it’s important for me to put pressure on the team to win the next game, or to win every game, because we’re in that pressure point of the year.

    “... We’ve got to find a way to finish this regular season off with the mindset of going into these games like we haven’t won any games. We’ve got to fight off human nature. ... In my last year at (Rhode Island), we didn’t handle things after clinching very well. Hopefully, that experience will come in handy.”

    Next week’s Big East tournament kicks off March Madness for No. 3 UConn (26-3, 16-2), which has secured the top seed.

    Hurley Madness is all season long.

    Wednesday’s game against No. 8 Marquette (22-7 13-5) in Milwaukee is the next important game on UConn’s schedule. Game time is at 8:30 p.m. at Fiserv Forum.

    While Hurley says the outcome of Wednesday’s game, and that of Saturday’s road contest at Providence in the regular-season finale, will not necessarily impact his team’s play in the postseason, that doesn’t mean the Huskies should take their foot off the gas.

    “I just think it’s not OK for us to not give our best performance,” Hurley said. “While we’ve had a great, great year, we know that position we’re in. We want to keep achieving and playing to our identity.”

    The Huskies have an opportunity to add to their growing list of accomplishments.

    With a strong finish, they can lock up a top seed in the NCAA tournament and secure their desired path.

    “We’re playing for big things in terms of seeding for the NCAA tournament,” Hurley said. “We obviously have a heck of a resume as it stands right now. …. We’ve done it both nonconference and in conference. But we want to go from Brooklyn to Boston to Phoenix. We’ve talked about that since the summer and we’ve got to be able to finish.”

    Brooklyn is the opening site in the East region with Boston hosting the Sweet Sixteen and Final Eight. The Final Four is in Phoenix.

    UConn also has a chance on Wednesday to tie the program record for most Big East wins. The 1995-96 Huskies went 17-1.

    The Huskies will be playing a Marquette team that won the Big East regular-season title last season with a 17-3 mark. The Golden Eagles will be without star point guard Tyler Kolek, who’s out for the remainder of the regular season with an oblique injury.

    Playing without Kolek on Saturday and also missing starter Oso Ighodaro (illness), Marquette suffered an 89-75 road loss to Creighton. The Golden Eagles are trying to hold on to second place in the league.

    Ighodaro will be back Wednesday. The Huskies also have to worry about Kam Jones, an explosive guard that’s averaging 27 points in the last four games.

    “It’s hard to play without the preseason player of the year, as good as he is,” Hurley said about Kolek. “But Kam Jones has been on a tear. … They’re still champions and have one of the best cultures in college sports.”

    UConn rolled to an 81-53 victory in the first meeting on Feb. 17 in Hartford and then had its worst loss of the season at Creighton, falling by 19.

    The Huskies have regained their top form in the last two games, winning by an average of 27 points while beating Villanova and Seton Hall.

    But they’re far from satisfied.

    “The most important thing right now is making sure we stay consistent, making sure everything is sharp, offensively and defensively, and everyone is connected,” sophomore Donovan Clingan said. “Now we’re at the point where after these next two games, it’s win or go home. So, we’ve really just got to be a strong group and finish out the season strong.”

    They’re long overdue for a road win against a top 10 team. The last time that happened was on Feb. 15, 2010, an 84-75 win over No. 3 Villanova.

    g.keefe@theday.com

    No. 2 UConn at No. 8 Marquette

    Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee

    Tip time: 8:30 p.m. (FS1)

    Records: UConn 26-3, 16-2; Marquette 22-7, 13-5

    Last game: UConn beat Seton Hall, 91-61, Sunday; Marquette lost at Creighton, 89-75, Saturday

    Series: UConn leads, 9-8, winning last meeting 81-53 on Feb. 17.

    Probable starters: UConn, 6-5 graduate guard Tristen Newton (15.3 pts, 7.1 rebs, 6 assists), 6-4 graduate guard Cam Spencer (14.8 pts, 4.5 rebs), 6-6 fr. guard Stephon Castle (11.3 pts, 4.3 rebs), 6-8 r-so. forward Alex Karaban (13.9 pts, 5.1 rebs), 7-2 so. center Donovan Clingan (12.6 pts, 6.7 rebs, 2.2 blks)

    Marquette, 6-3 jr. guard Stevie Mitchell (8.5 pts, 3.8 rebs), 6-5 jr. guard Kam Jones (16.1 pts, 2.5 rebs), 6-5 so. guard Chase Ross (6.5 pts, 3.1 rebs), 6-8 jr. forward David Joplin (11 pts, 3.6 rebs), 6-11 sr. forward Oso Ighodaro (14 pts, 7.3 rebs)

    Noteworthy: Huskies are 3-1 versus top-five competition. … UConn shooting to win seven road games in a season for the first time since the 2013-14 national championship team went 7-4. Huskies are 6-3 this season. … Marquette owns the second-best home record in the league at 14-1. Only UConn’s 16-0 is better. … In the first meeting, Clingan (17 pts, 10 rebs), Newton (15). Spencer (14) and Hassan Diarra (14) led the Huskies to a lopsided win. Golden Eagles shot 36.8%. … Top reserve: 6-11 so. forward Ben Gold (4.9 pts, 3.3 rebs). … Hot: Kam Jones is averaging 27 points in the last four games. Cold: Karaban is 4-for-22 from 3-pt land in the last four games. … Clingan has scored in double digits in a career high five straight games. … Newton has back-to-back games with 10 assists. … Spencer 3rd in the nation in 3-pt FG% at 45.0. … In the NCAA NET rankings, UConn resides at No. 3, Marquette No. 14. … Up next: UConn visits Providence at 8 p.m. Saturday in the regular season finale.

    – Gavin Keefe

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