UConn men singing the blues as they visit Memphis
Veteran coach Tubby Smith knows all about the rich tradition of the UConn men's basketball program.
While at Kentucky, where he led the Wildcats to a national championship in 1998, Smith lost to the Huskies in a 2006 NCAA tournament second-round game in Philadelphia.
Now in his first season at Memphis, Smith still has great respect for UConn, which visits FedExForum on Thursday night for an American Athletic Conference game that starts at 7 p.m.
Smith considers the depleted Huskies, who've lost a season-high three straight, as dangerous as a wounded animal.
"UConn is a team that is very capable of winning," Smith said on his weekly radio show. "They had a tough loss at Tulsa in overtime. But I know they're coming here ready to play.
"From what I understand, we lost to them last year in the (AAC) championship game. They have one of the top shot-blocking teams in the country. They're always very aggressive defensively and offensively. ... We have a lot to play for.
"I know they're having a tough year because a lot of their talented players were injured early in the season, a couple were lost for the season. We'll have to have a great effort against a very good UConn team."
UConn (5-8) is hoping to avoid its first 0-3 start in AAC play while Memphis (10-4, 0-1) is trying to build on its early season success. The Tigers own nonconference wins on the road against Oklahoma and home versus Iowa and South Carolina. They dropped their only league game to SMU 58-54 on Dec. 27.
The Huskies have recently enjoyed the upper hand in the series, winning all three meetings last season including a 72-58 victory in the AAC championship game last March in Orlando.
The return of sophomore Jalen Adams, who missed one game recovering from a concussion, gave the Huskies a lift against Tulsa but couldn't prevent them from suffering a 61-59 overtime loss on Saturday.
Adams looked sharp, finishing with 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists while playing all 45 minutes. Barring foul trouble, he'll play marathon minutes again tonight.
He's experiencing his best season of his young career, ranking fourth in overall games in the AAC in scoring (16.8) and first in assists (5.5) per game.
"Jalen Adams is an All-American Athletic Conference type player," Smith said. "He's putting up great numbers."
It's highly unlikely that UConn will win a shootout given it is averaging only 59.3 points in the last seven games. So the Huskies will have to lock down on defense against the league's highest scoring team at 81.1 points.
Memphis boasts the AAC's frontrunner for conference player of the year in sophomore forward Dedric Lawson. He's one of nine Division I players ranked in the top 10 in their league in points (first, 20.6), rebounds (11.1, second) and assists (3.9, seventh) per game. His brother, red-shirt freshman K.J. Lawson (13.4 pts, 8.4 rebs), also is having a productive season while junior guard Markel Crawford is a strong candidate for the league's most improved player, raising his scoring average from 5.3 last season to 14.5 points.
The key is to slow down the Tigers, who have failed to reach 80 points in all four of their losses. They've struggled against zone defenses due in part to shaky perimeter shooting, ranking last in conference in 3-point field goal percentage at 30.3 percent, just ahead of UConn.
SMU's 1-3-1 zone caused Memphis some real problems. Expect UConn to also play zone.
"Teams scout," Smith said. "I'm sure Kevin Ollie and his staff at UConn have watched our tapes just like we've watched their tapes."
UCONN at MEMPHIS
Location: FedExForum, Memphis, Tenn.
Tip: 7 p.m. (ESPN2).
Records: UConn 5-8, 0-2 AAC; Memphis 10-4, 0-1.
Last game: UConn lost at Tulsa (61-59 OT), Saturday; Memphis beat South Carolina, 70-54, Friday.
Probable starters: UConn, 6-3 so. guard Jalen Adams (16.8 pts, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebs), 6-2 fr. guard Christian Vital (7.9 pts), 6-4 r-sr. guard Rodney Purvis (12.7 pts, 4.8 rebs), 6-10 sr. forward Kentan Facey (6.2 pts, 6.6 rebs), 7-0 sr. center Amida Brimah (6.7 pts, 5.4 rebs, 3 blks).
Memphis, 6-3 so. guard Jeremiah Martin (10 pts, 5.1 assists), 6-5 r-jr. guard Markel Crawford (14.5 pts, 4.9 rebs), 6-7 r-fr. forward K.J. Lawson (13.4 pts, 8.4 rebs), 6-8 jr. forward Jimario Rivers (6 pts, 2.9 rebs), 6-9 so. forward Dedric Lawson (20.6 pts, 11.1 rebs).
Noteworthy: Lost a season-high three straight. ... Trying to avoid first 0-3 start in AAC play. ... Series: UConn leads 6-3, winning all three meetings last season including 72-58 win in AAC Championship game in Orlando in March. ... Dedric Lawson, co-preseason player of year in AAC, tops in league in scoring and second in rebounding. ... Tigers won three of last four, losing to SMU 58-54 in only AAC game. ... Top reserve: 6-4 so. guard Craig Randall II (7.1 pts) ... Huskies averaging more points on the road (69.7) than home (60.5) but scored only 52.5 pts per game in two AAC games. ... Memphis first in AAC's in scoring (81.1), assist to turnover ratio (1.6). ... Hot: UConn leads AAC in blocks at 6 per game. Cold: Huskies shooting 37 percent in two AAC games. ... Huskies 4-2 all-time at FedExForum. ... Tigers 8-2 this season at home under first-year coach Tubby Smith. ... Up next: UConn hosts Central Florida Sunday at XL Center in Hartford.
— Gavin Keefe