UConn's goal: Make a statement at PK80 Invitational
So far, UConn has basically done what it is supposed to do.
The Huskies have knocked off three mid-major opponents to open the season.
Now they're out to do what few people outside the UConn basketball family expect them to do.
Make a statement while competing in a deep and loaded PK80 Invitational field in Portland, Ore.
The journey begins with a first-round matchup with Oregon (4-0) at 9 p.m. Thursday at the Moda Center. The Huskies will face with No. 4 Michigan State or DePaul in the second round on Friday and complete tournament action on Sunday.
No. 4 North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Portland also are in UConn's bracket.
"We want to shock the world," guard Antwoine Anderson said before leaving for Oregon. "A lot of people are doubting us. We just saw on ESPN that the (second round) matchup was going to be Michigan State against Oregon. We want to go out and compete and play at a high level."
To achieve their goal of cracking the top 25 before January will likely require the Huskies to rack up some impressive victories in the PK80 Invitational.
They've resided in the shadows since two straight losses to open last season sent them tumbling out of the polls and away from the national spotlight.
They're ready to test themselves against some stiffer competition.
"It's going to show who's been working and who's not," coach Kevin Ollie said. "The competition steps up. You can't hide in this tournament. The big boys are here. So we've got to put on your big boy britches on and go out there and play hard. A lot of guys have to step up their game, and hopefully they do that."
Both UConn and Oregon are completely different teams than last November when the two programs met in the Maui Invitational. The Ducks won, 79-69.
Only two Huskies, Jalen Adams and Christian Vital, and two Ducks, Payton Pritchard and Keith Smith, played in that meeting.
Oregon has quickly restocked its talent after losing all but one member of its regular rotation from last year's Final Four team.
The Ducks looked lethal against inferior competition, beating Coppin State, Prairie View A&M, Alabama State and Ball State by an average of 32.8 points per game. They're balanced, with six players averaging in double figures, and deep, as 10 Ducks play at least 13 minutes per game. They've dominated the boards by 14.2 per game and shot 53 percent overall.
The Huskies are a deeper and more talented team than last season but concerns remain. They can't afford to repeat the same early season issues — sluggish starts, turnover trouble, shaky perimeter shooting and defensive lapses — and expect to win games in the PK80 Invitational.
For Ollie, it all starts with the Huskies giving maximum effort.
"The only thing I want these guys to do is play with effort," Ollie said. "Play with a level five and just empty your tank. That's what I want these guys to keep doing. I know they're going to get there."
No matter what happens in the tournament, UConn will benefit from the experience.
The Huskies already are in a better spot than last year at this time.
"Last year, when we went out to Maui, we were 1-2," sophomore Christian Vital said. "This year, we're 3-0. It's a completely different vibe in the locker room. We feel good together."
UCONN vs. OREGON
Location: Moda Center, Portland, Ore.
Tip-off: 9 p.m. (ESPNU)
Records: UConn 3-0, Oregon 4-0
Last game: UConn beat Boston University, 85-66, Sunday; Oregon defeated Ball State, 95-71, Sunday
Probable starters: UConn, 6-0 redshirt fr. guard Alterique Gilbert (9 pts, 4.3 assists), 6-3 jr. guard Jalen Adams (15.5 pts, 5.5 rebs), 6-8 redshirt jr. forward Terry Larrier (16.7 pts, 5.3 rebs), 6-8 fr. forward Tyler Polley (6.3 pts, 2.3 rebs), jr. forward Eric Cobb (1.3 pts, 6.0 rebs)
Oregon, 6-2 so. guard Payton Pritchard (12.5 pts, 5.8 assists), 6-7 fr. forward Troy Brown Jr. (13 pts, 6.3 rebs), 6-7 so. forward Keith Smith (4.8 pts, 2.8 rebs) 6-9 redshirt junior forward Paul White (11.3 pts, 4.3 rebs), 6-7 redshirt senior forward MiKyle McIntosh (8.5 pts, 5.3 rebs)
Noteworthy: First round game in PK80 Invitational. ... Series: UConn lost only other meeting last November in Maui Invitational, 79-69. Adams, a game-high 27 points, and Christian Vital only two current Huskies who played in that game. ... Ducks return only one regular in the rotation from last year's 33-win, Final Four team. Picked to place fourth in Pac-12 Conference preseason poll. ... Oregon scoring 94.8 points per game. Six different players average in double figures. ... Top reserves: 6-4 fr. guard Victor Bailey Jr. (12.3 pts), 6-4 sr. guard Elijah Brown (12 pts, 3.5 rebs), 6-10 sr. forward Roman Sorkin (11.5 pts, 3.5 rebs). ... Oregon's Dana Altman one of six active coaches with a winning record in 20 straight seasons. ... Ducks out-rebounding teams by 14.2 per game. ... Hot: Larrier 6-for-10 from 3-pt. land. Cold: Huskies with more turnovers (39) than assists (34). ... UConn 18-5 overall against Pac-12 Conference schools. ... Up next: Huskies play either No. 4 Michigan State or DePaul in second round Friday night. Arkansas, No. 9 North Carolina, Oklahoma and Portland also in Victory bracket.
— Gavin Keefe
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