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    Monday, June 24, 2024

    UConn men’s notes: Hurley establishes a championship level

    UConn head coach Dan Hurley during a Sweet 16 college basketball game in the men's NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 29, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
    Northwestern head coach Chris Collins, right, talks with UConn head coach Dan Hurley after a second-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament Sunday, March 24, 2024, in New York. UConn won 75-58. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

    Boston – UConn was exactly where it expected to be on Saturday night, playing for a trip to the Final Four.

    Coach Dan Hurley set a championship level standard after taking over the men’s basketball program six years ago. He’s gradually built the Huskies into a title contender.

    Everything the Huskies do, they do it with chasing championships in mind.

    Prior to Saturday’s NCAA tournament East regional final against Illinois at TD Garden, UConn already had won a Big East regular season and league tournament title this season. The reigning national champion Huskies started March Madness intent on becoming the first team since Florida in 2007 to repeat.

    Their success in pressure-packed situations allows them to play free and easy, even when being a top seed competing in an Elite Eight game.

    “We broke through last year,” Hurley said. “We’ve established a level. Maybe we feel a little less pressure as an organization because we feel like we’ve established a level now of where our program’s at, that we’re going to be in this spot moving forward.”

    The Huskies aren’t taking their success for granted. They know how hard it is to reach this elite stage.

    “You’re just blessed with the opportunity to be in these types of games,” redshirt sophomore Alex Karaban said.

    UConn reached the Elite Eight for the second straight year for the first time since accomplishing the feat in 1998 and 1999.

    The Huskies went 6-6 in their previous 12 trips to the regional final, winning the last four.

    Huskies on Hurley

    A media member asked UConn’s starting five to describe Hurley in one word during Friday’s press conference.

    Stephon Castle responded: “Loud.”

    Donovan Clingan: “Competitive.”

    Alex Karaban: “Passionate.”

    Tristen Newton: “Relentless.”

    Cam Spencer: “A winner.”

    After listening to the responses, Hurley said: “Let’s go, boys. Got my back! Culture.”

    Important pieces of advice

    Hurley talked about the most important advice that he received about dealing with and preparing for the March Madness grind.

    Words of wisdom came from Hall of Fame coaches Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma.

    “For me, certainly, shortening up practices,” Hurley said. “I think trusting your team, I think from coach Calhoun and Geno, they have really tried to hammer that home with me as a season’s gone on, shortening those practices.

    “And then the leadership, the public persona, I think Geno and coach Calhoun have had a heavy influence in how I try to carry myself this time of year. As a UConn coach, the confidence you’ve got to display in-house and in front of the guys because of what UConn represents in March and April.”

    Hurley didn’t always feel that way about shortening practices.

    Earlier in his UConn coaching career, Hurley believed in always going full throttle.

    But two consecutive NCAA tournament first round exits in 2021 and 2022 helped change his mind. He’s gradually cut back practice time and intensity, just as Calhoun did during his highly-successful career.

    Since then, the Huskies have been fresher for the postseason, and more successful as well, winning a school-record nine straight NCAA tournament games.

    News and notes

    UConn was the last Big East team remaining in the field heading into Saturday night’s action. In the regional semifinals on Friday, No. 2 Marquette lost to No. 11 North Carolina State, 67-58, and No. 3 Creighton fell to No. 2 Tennessee, 82-75. … Castle (12.3), Clingan (13.7), Spencer (14.7) and Newton (16.7) also averaged double figures for points through three tourney games. At 10 per game, Clingan was the leading rebounder. … Friday marked the 25th anniversary of UConn’s first national championship win, a 77-74 victory over heavily-favored Duke. … Calhoun, who won three national championships at UConn, attended the games in Boston. He’s from Braintree, once coached at Dedham High School and Northeastern. … A few people stood outside TD Garden three hours before game time looking for tickets to the sold-out game. The cheapest tickets went for over $300 on the secondary market.

    g.keefe@theday.com

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