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    UConn Men's Basketball
    Wednesday, February 21, 2024

    UConn's Carlton has provided a big boost inside

    UConn's Josh Carlton, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, is averaging 11 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks over his last four games for the Huskies, who visit Central Florida on Thursday night in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)

    As part of his pre-game routine, UConn sophomore Josh Carlton drinks coffee.

    He's recently played like he's had several cups.

    His activity level increased, resulting in Carlton being a more productive presence that the Huskies so desperately need inside.

    But his improved play isn't just from a jolt from his java.

    Carlton is responding to coach Dan Hurley constant prodding about raising his energy level.

    "He gets mad in practice, (saying) none of that low motor stuff," Carlton said. "So I always try to keep a high motor."

    An agile 6-foot-10 center, Carlton is playing perhaps his best stretch of basketball in his young career entering Thursday's American Athletic Conference game against Central Florida at 9 p.m. at CFE Arena in Orlando.

    Carlton is averaging 11 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in the last four games, scoring double figures three times. He reached his career high for points (18) against Tulane on Jan. 19 and tied a career high for blocks (four) against Wichita State on Saturday.

    He's also becoming a more reliable defender and doing a better job of avoiding foul trouble.

    His overall numbers — 7.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 19.3 minutes per game while starting all 20 games — are all better than last season when he contributed 4.4 points and 3.7 rebounds in 15.2 minutes per game in 32 appearances.

    "He didn't get a lot of opportunity or experience last year," Hurley said. "So, for me, it's kind of been almost like a first year of college. You can just see him coming on. He has a skill level, but now the motor is picking up and rebounding and his defensive presence. We have a chance to be better offensively and defensively with the way he's emerging right now.

    "... He's starting to be a guy that we can throw the ball into the post to, so it's not just ring around the rosie on the three point line."

    Carlton and his fellow Huskies (12-8, 3-4) will put their modest two-game winning streak on the line against the Knights (15-4, 5-2), who are a strong contender for the AAC regular season crown but gone just 2-2 in their last four games.

    The two teams met earlier this month, with UCF posting its first road true win in the series, a 65-53 decision in Hartford. The difference came down to defense, with the Huskies shooting 32.2 percent and Knights 57.1 percent.

    The Huskies will likely be without redshirt sophomore Alterique Gilbert, who hasn't practiced since injuring his left shoulder in Saturday's game. He made the trip.

    It will be add another degree of difficulty for UConn Thursday. Gilbert is the team's third leading scorer and top assist man, averaging 13 points and 3.8 assists. His absence will impact UConn's depth as well as putting more pressure on his fellow starting backcourt teammates, Jalen Adams and Christian Vital.

    The Huskies already have enough problems playing on the road. They've lost all three road trips this season and gone 2-11 dating back to the beginning of last season.

    They've also struggled against teams above them in the standing in recent years, going 1-3 this season and 0-9 last season.

    "We'll just try to get a top tier win in the conference, that's one of our big goals," Carlton said. "We're going to go in there hungry and try and get a win. We played them close last game but we didn't make enough shots. Hopefully, our shots will fall."

    Two straight double digit home wins gave the Huskies a shot of confidence.

    "We've got to take it on the road against the preseason favorite and get it done there," Hurley said. That's going to be obviously a big test."

    g.keefe@theday.com

    UCONN at CENTRAL FLORIDA

    Location: CFE Arena, Orlando

    Tip: 9 p.m. (ESPNU)

    Records: UConn 12-8, 3-4; UCF 15-4, 5-2

    Last game: UConn beat Wichita State, 80-60, Saturday; UCF lost at Memphis, 77-57, Sunday

    Probable starters: UCF, 6-2 sr. guard B.J. Taylor (16.7 pts), 6-3 r-jr. guard Terrell Allen (7.6 pts, 4.3 assists), 6-6 r-jr. forward Aubrey Dawkins (15.4 pts, 5.4 rebs), 6-11 r-so. forward Collin Smith (8.1 pts, 5.3 rebs), 7-6 sr. center Tacko Fall (9.8 pts, 7.1 rebs, 2.8 blocks)

    UConn, 6-3 sr. guard Jalen Adams (18.2 pts), 6-3 grad guard Tarin Smith (8.3 pts), 6-2 jr. guard Christian Vital (13.7 pts, 5.6 rebs), 6-8 so. forward Tyler Polley (7.5 pts, 2.3 rebs), 6-10 so. forward Josh Carlton (7.8 pts, 4.8 rebs)

    Noteworthy: Shooting for first 3-game winning streak since late Nov. ... Series: UConn leads 11-3, losing last meeting 65-53 Jan. 5 in Hartford. First road win in series for Knights, who shot 57.1 percent and made 20 free throws. Dawkins with season-high 23 points. Huskies shot 32.2 percent, held 37-23 rebounding edge. ... UCF coming off worst loss of season at Memphis. ... Fall leads ACC in FG percentage (74.8) and blocks (2.8) per game. ... Top reserve: 6-9 sr. forward Chad Brown (4.9 pts, 5.2 rebs). ... Knights 10-1 at home, winning nine straight. Huskies 0-3 on road. ... Injury news: starter Alterique Gilbert (left shoulder) day to day. ... Hot: Carlton averaging 10.4 pts and 7.2 rebs in last five games. Cold: Smith 7-for-25 from field in last five games. ... Vital only one turnover in last three games. ... UCF shoots AAC leading 46.7 percent, second in FG percentage defense at 39 percent, third in scoring defense (63.7 pts). ... Huskies 12-1 when leading at half. ...  Adams (1,630 points) No. 2 on AAC all-time scoring list behind Houston's Rob Gray (1,710). ... Up next: UConn hosts East Carolina at 2 p.m. Sunday in Hartford.

    — Gavin Keefe

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