Payback on agenda for UConn's trip to Texas
A Texas-size payback is on UConn's agenda tonight.
UConn is seeking to avenge a damaging home defeat at the hands of Texas last season.
The two basketball programs meet at 9 p.m. Tuesday in a nonconference showdown at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. Both teams stand at 8-3 overall.
First-year Texas coach Shaka Smart showed the highlight of Jonathan Holmes' game winning shot with two seconds left to his team on Sunday as a reminder that UConn will be highly-motivated.
Smart is dead on.
"They stole one from us last year," UConn junior Rodney Purvis said prior to the brief holiday break. "We want to go and steal one back. A little payback."
The tremors from that 55-54 loss were felt all the way to March. Too many nonconference losses prevented the Huskies from qualifying for the NCAA tournament.
The Huskies are in a similar position to this time last season. They've already failed to capitalize on some chances at securing three quality nonconference wins. After tonight, they have only one out-of-league game remaining, hosting Georgetown on Jan. 23.
They'll play their first true road game of the season without shot-blocking force Amida Brimah, who'll miss his second straight game since having surgery Thursday on his broken finger and third straight overall. A groin injury kept him out of the UMass Lowell game on Dec. 20.
The adjustment period will be a long one.
"Unfortunately, one of our best players is out now," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said after his team's rout of Central Connecticut on Dec. 23. "It happens. But I'm going to look at it as an opportunity. It's a time for some other guys to step up. Hopefully, he's not out for the season and gets back in February or something like that. Then we have some other big (men) emerge and it's going to make us a deeper team going into March and April."
The absence of Brimah will be lessened in today's game due to the news that the Longhorns are without their starting center Cameron Ridley, the team's second leading scorer (12.7 per game), top rebounder (10.0) and shot blocker (3.4). Ridley suffered a fractured left foot in practice Sunday.
Expect the Huskies and Longhorns to rely heavily on their talented perimeter weapons.
"Just a more perimeter-oriented game for both teams," Smart told reporters in Texas. "Their best lineup even when (Brimah) was healthy was to have four guys that are perimeter-type players in the game, Daniel Hamilton being the biggest of those. He's such a dynamic triple-threat guy. ... That's their best offensive team. In a way, it makes them harder to guard."
Ollie has similar concerns with Texas, which is dangerous in transition and can heat up from 3-point range.
Junior Isaiah Taylor fuels a three-guard attack for Texas, leading his team in scoring (14.7) and assists (5.1). His game-winning floater with 1.1 seconds lifted the Longhorns to a huge 75-73 win at Stanford on Dec. 19.
Taylor and company will put pressure on UConn's defense.
"With Amida out, we've got to be tougher and we've got to stay connected," Hamilton said. "The third thing, we've got to stay in front of our man, because Amida isn't out there to block every shot or change every shot."
For Hamilton, the American Athletic Conference player of the week, tonight's game is a chance for him to earn bragging rights at home. His brother Jordan played for Texas from 2009-11.
"I'm definitely excited about going to Texas," Hamilton said last week. "My brother played there. He might go to the game. Hopefully, he can make that trip."
UConn at Texas
Location: Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas.
Tip-off: 9 p.m. (ESPN2).
Records: UConn 8-3, Texas 8-3.
Last game: UConn beat Central Connecticut, 99-52, Wednesday; Texas won at Stanford, 75-73, Dec. 19.
Probable starters: UConn, 6-2 grad. guard Sterling Gibbs (11.5 pts), 6-4 r-jr. guard Rodney Purvis (15.2 pts), 6-7 so. forward Daniel Hamilton (13 pts, 8.7 rebs, 5.9 assists), 6-7 grad. forward Shonn Miller (13 pts, 5.4 rebs), 6-10 sr. forward Phil Nolan (1.7 pts).
Texas, 5-11 sr. guard Javan Felix (10.4 pts), 6-3 sr. guard Demarcus Holland (4.5 pts), 6-3 jr. guard Isaiah Taylor (14.7 pts, 5.1 rebs, 5.1 assists), 6-10 sr. forward Connor Lammert (5.9 pts, 5.1 rebs), 6-11 sr. center Prince Ibeh (1.2 pts, 3 rebs).
Noteworthy: First true road game of season for Huskies, 11-11 on road in last two seasons. ... Longhorns won six straight, two of last three with last-second shots. ... Series: UConn leads 5-3, losing last meeting 55-54 in November, 2014 in Storrs. ... Injury update: UConn's Amida Brimah (broken finger), Texas' Cameron Ridley (left foot), both starting centers, out. Ridley his team's leading rebounder and shot blocker. Husky reserve Sam Cassell (ankle) probable. ... Top reserve: 6-4 fr. guard Kerwin Roach Jr. (6.7 pts, 2.8 rebs). ... Texas averages 21 3-point attempts per game, converting 37.9 percent. ... Hot: UConn shot at least 60 percent in each of last three games. Cold: Gibbs and Purvis combined for 16 turnovers in last four games. ... Former NFA/UConn player R.J. Evans of Salem is a graduate assistant at Texas. ... Up next: UConn visits Tulane on Saturday in AAC season opener.
— Gavin Keefe