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UConn packs a positive attitude for its road trip to Ohio State

UConn will step on the court at Ohio State's Value City Arena in Columbus on Saturday feeling significantly better than it did early last week.

The Huskies are over the initial shock of losing three players to season-ending injuries and in the process of adjusting to their new world.

Two straight wins have lifted their spirits and confidence. They're embracing coach Kevin Ollie's positive message.

"We're just trying to get better each and every day," fifth-year senior Rodney Purvis said after Monday's dramatic 52-50 win over rival Syracuse. "Our coach tells us all the time to not look at our record because we're much better than our record.

"We had some unfortunate things that happened to us early in the season, but we continue to come to practice and get better and stay positive with each other each and every day. I'm not going to put any ceiling on our team at all. As long as we continue to stay together and fight, we'll be perfectly fine."

Saturday's non-conference game (6 p.m., Big Ten Network) became a bit more challenging when Ohio State (7-2) suffered a shocking 79-77 overtime loss to Florida Atlantic on Tuesday.

Up until then, the Buckeyes had been rolling, with their only defeat at No. 14 Virginia, 63-61, on Nov. 30. The loss to Florida Atlantic brought some of their weaknesses into the sunlight.

Turnover trouble has been an issue for the Buckeyes, who average 14.1 per game. Their many strengths include: spreading out the scoring wealth with six different players averaging in double figures, controlling the boards (plus 6.2 per game) and shooting 49.6 percent from the field. Junior forward Jae'Sean Tate leads the balanced attack, averaging team highs in scoring (14.0 points) and rebounding (7.8).

The Huskies (4-4) are learning to survive without a reliable offensive attack, fighting, scratching and clawing their way to two straight wins despite scoring 51.5 points.

They accomplished their mini-spurt by cranking up their defensive intensity and playing with a fierce competitive spirit. They limited Boston University and Syracuse to a combined 49.5 points and 28.6 percent from the field.

With only eight scholarship players healthy, Ollie is keeping players fresh by using some zone as well as an active man-to-man.

The backcourt of Purvis and sophomore Jalen Adams, who've accounted for 31.3 of UConn's 67.4 points per-game scoring average, could use some scoring help.

But if they need to continue to try to win ugly, they'll do just that.

"Hopefully, we just continue to get better," Ollie said. "We've got to prepare for Ohio State, another great tradition program on their home court. We've got to really come out and play hard. We have to go back to drawing board and look at tape and try to get better on the offensive end.

"We're just going to keep moving forward."

The early season adversity has brought the team closer together, according to freshman Christian Vital. Monday's come-from-behind victory over Syracuse also helped strengthen their bond.

"We're on a two-game win streak," Vital said. "I believe we can beat Ohio State. ... We feel like we're more together. Those injuries really kind of put things in disarray. It was a blessing in disguise in a way."

g.keefe@theday.com

UCONN at OHIO STATE

Location: Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio

Tip: 6 p.m. (BTN)

Records: UConn 4-4, Ohio State 7-2

Last game: UConn beat Syracuse, 52-50, Monday; Ohio State lost to Florida Atlantic, 79-77 (OT), Tuesday

Probable starters: UConn, 6-3 so. guard Jalen Adams (17.8 pts, 5.6 assists, 5.3 rebs), 6-2 fr. guard Christian Vital (7.3 pts), 6-4 r-sr. guard Rodney Purvis (12.5 pts, 4.5 rebs), 6-11 so. forward Steve Enoch (2.8 pts, 2.4 rebs), 7-0 sr. center Amida Brimah (6.4 pts, 5.5 rebs, 3.2 blks)

Ohio State, 6-5 so. guard JaQuan Lyle (10.8 pts, 5.8 assists), 6-2 r-jr. guard Kam Williams (11.7 pts), 6-4 jr. forward Jae'Sean Tate (14 pts, 7.8 rebs), 6-8 sr. forward Marc Loving (11.8 pts, 5.3 rebs), 6-9 fr. center Micah Potter (4.9 pts, 3.8 rebs)

Noteworthy: UConn won 3 of last 4 games. ... First road trip to Columbus in 33 years. ... Series: Tied at 3-3, with UConn winning 75-55 last December in Storrs. Purvis 13 pts and Huskies shot 60.4 percent. ... OSU's best win: 72-67 over Providence. Worst loss: Florida Atlantic, a 20-pt plus underdog. ... Six Buckeyes average in double figures. ... Top reserves: 7-0 jr. center Trevor Thompson (10.3 pts, 7.7 rebs), 6-7 jr. forward Keita Bates-Diop (10.3 pts, 5.8 rebs). ... OSU out-rebounds foes by 6.2 per game, ranks 20th in nation in FG percentage defense (37.3). ... Williams top 3-pt threat, converting 47.7 percent (21-for-44). ... OSU tops nation in home wins since 2009-10 season, going 127-17. ... Hot: OSU sinks 49.6 percent from the field. Cold: UConn held last two foes to a combined 28.6 FG percentage. ... Huskies 1-0 in true road games. ... Kentan Facey averaging 7.5 pts, 10 rebs in last 2 games. ... UConn led only once at half this season. ... Up next: After 7-day exam break, UConn hosts North Florida on Sunday, Dec. 18, in Storrs.

— Gavin Keefe

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