UConn showing signs of toughness as it heads into UNH game
Junior Christian Vital made a revealing comment earlier this week.
Following Tuesday's 17-point victory over Cornell, Vital talked about his team's toughness.
"We just feel like the tougher team," Vital said. "We imposed our will on them."
When informed that the Huskies didn't say that many times last season, Vital responded: "It's a new year."
So far, it has been a new and improved year for UConn, which carries a 4-1 record into Saturday's non-conference game against New Hampshire (2-3) at noon at the XL Center in Hartford.
The Huskies have shown signs of mental toughness this season. They outworked and outwilled rival Syracuse while pulling off an upset last week in New York. They're also beating up on weaker foes instead of struggling as they did in the past two losing seasons.
Two years ago, they opened the season with consecutive losses to Wagner and Northeastern. Last year, they needed overtime to avoid ugly defeats to Columbia and Monmouth.
This season, they've knocked off Morehead State, Missouri-Kansas City and Cornell all by double digits, posting an average margin of victory of 18.3 points.
Basically, they're winning the games that they're supposed to win and doing it, for the most part, in relatively convincing fashion.
Consider those three convincing wins a small step forward for a program attempting to make a long climb back into the national spotlight.
Senior Jalen Adams attributes the team's improved depth for UConn's ability to impose their will and put teams away this season. Now the Huskies can stay in attack mode instead of backing off.
"I think now we have that depth and those players that can keep it going," Adams said. "Once me or Christian got tired last year, it was hard to get over that hump. Now we have so many guards. Eric Cobb is stepping up, Josh (Carlton) is playing well and Tyler (Polley). Everybody is stepping up to bigger roles this year. That helps us get over the hump and put teams away."
Credit also goes to first-year coach Dan Hurley, who's injecting some much-needed toughness into the Huskies, who've played both mentally and physically soft in recent years.
The Huskies are still far from the finish line.
Take Tuesday's game.
On the verge of leaving Cornell in the dust in the second half, UConn let up and watched a 21-point lead shrink to 13. The Huskies eventually regained the upper-hand again.
"We showed a little bit of immaturity at times out there," Hurley said.
Now the next challenge is New Hampshire, a team tied for seventh in the America East preseason poll. The Wildcats are another opponent that the Huskies should beat by a decent margin, especially at home.
Mental toughness is just one item on Hurley's significant list of things that need improving this season.
Hurley pointed out that the Huskies struggled last season offensively, defensively and didn't rebound well.
"It's not like we're trying to fix like one thing," Hurley said. "It's like a dam almost where you're just trying to plug holes game by game, emphasizing things that you've got to try and plug. ... Eventually, we have the potential to be a real good team. With us, we've just got to get better in those three areas over the course of a long season. It's only been like seven months together. It's going to take a little more time."
Location: XL Center, Hartford
Time: Noon (SNY)
Records: UConn 4-1, New Hampshire 2-3
Last game: UConn beat Cornell, 91-74, Tuesday; New Hampshire lost to Quinnipiac, 69-63, Tuesday
Probable starters: New Hampshire, 6-0 sr. guard Jordan Reed (10 pts), 6-1 so. guard Elijah Jordan (11.2 pts, 2.4 assists), 6-5 so. guard Josh Hopkins (11.2 pts, 3.8 rebs), 6-7 fr. forward Jayden Martinez (9 pts, 6 rebs), 6-8 jr. forward Luke Rosinski (5 pts, 4 rebs)
UConn, 6-3 sr. guard Jalen Adams (18.6 pts), 6-0 redshirt so. guard Alterique Gilbert (13.2 pts, 4.4 assists), 6-2 jr. guard Christian Vital (10.6 pts, 4.6 rebs), 6-8 so. forward Tyler Polley (8.2 pts, 3.2 rebs), 6-10 so. forward Josh Carlton (7 pts, 3.8 rebs)
Noteworthy: Second of five straight home games. ... Series: UConn leads, 92-25, winning last nine meetings including last one, 85-66, in 2015. ... Huskies faced Wildcats more than any opponent in program history other than Rhode Island. ... UNH tied for seventh in America East preseason poll. ... Top reserve: fr. forward Nick Guadarrama (9.5 pts, rebs), a Newington HS grad. ... UNH wins vs. Rivier, Mt. Saint Vincent. Losses to UMass, American, Quinnipiac ... Wildcats averaging 14.4 offensive rebs. ... Hot: Reserve Eric Cobb 18-for-25 from field, or 72 percent. Cold: Gilbert 20-for-51 from field, or 39 percent. ... Huskies scored at least 80 points four times, equaling last season's total. ... Injury update: Reserve Isaiah Whaley (ankle) back at practice after missing last game but remains questionable. ... Up next: UConn hosts UMass Lowell Tuesday night in Storrs.
— Gavin Keefe