UConn men in search of signature win versus Arizona
Only a limited number of opportunities for a signature victory come UConn's way each season.
Sunday afternoon's showdown with Arizona falls into that big game category.
The Huskies (6-1) realize the importance of the non-conference meeting with the Wildcats (5-2), a Pac-12 power. A near capacity crowd is expected at the XL Center. Game time is 1 p.m.
"It would be a great win for us to beat Arizona, (because) the conference they're in and the tradition of their program," senior Jalen Adams said. "We want to win this game just to show we can compete with the best of them. Not only prove to people on the outside but just to prove to ourselves the win over Syracuse wasn't the peak of our season. That we still have more growing to do."
The win over then nationally-ranked Syracuse on Nov. 15 gave UConn a nice but only temporary boost. The next night at Madison Square Garden, the Huskies suffered a humbling 19-point loss to Iowa.
The Huskies are excited about another shot at a quality program.
"Arizona is one of those teams that you always see them making runs in the tournament," Adams said. "You see a lot of their guys in the NBA. When you get a chance to play against them, it's always fun and exciting. Especially for guys who are returning. They beat us last year so we always want to get revenge."
While the Huskies are nearly the same team as the one that lost, 73-58, in Tucson last December, the Wildcats have undergone a makeover after losing all five starters from a Pac-12 champion and NCAA tournament team.
Arizona coach Sean Miller, a former Pittsburgh guard who once played against UConn at the XL Center, is relying on transfers and young players this season. Leading scorer Brandon Randolph is a sophomore and point guard Brandon Williams a freshman while Justin Coleman and Chase Jeter previously played at Samford and Duke, respectively.
Arizona is similar to Iowa in terms of pace of play, according to coach Dan Hurley.
"It's going to be a hard game," Hurley said. "They're like a top 50 defensive team and a top 50 type of offensive team. If you're not on top of your game, it will be a tough, long game.
"... Sean's teams are always really, really physical. Both teams do like to get it and go. They run on makes and misses really well. They want to get up and down the court. So I don't know if it is going to be a rock fight, but it's going to be a physical game."
The Wildcats are battled-tested after losing to top 10 teams in Gonzaga and Auburn and beating Iowa State in the Maui Invitational last month.
"Hopefully, that competition will help us when we play our first true road game," Miller said. "Playing in the Hartford Civic Center — I played there a long time ago — it's a great, great home court for UConn. They have an unreal fan base, a lot like ours. They have a hungry and really talented new coach and they return a lot from last year's team. We know it's going to be a hard fought game and hopefully we're up to the task."
Since Tuesday's lopsided win over UMass Lowell, Hurley has focused in practice on defensive fundamentals and developing a tougher mindset. The Huskies have suffered too many defensive breakdowns in recent games, getting beat off the dribble and bypassing chances to draw charges.
Hurley will look for signs on Sunday to see if the Huskies possess the proper mindset.
"You'll know that we're dialed in the way we need to be defensively if we take three or four charges and we dive on the floor 10 or 12 times because that's how we've got to play this year," Hurley said.
UConn's goal is to make Arizona as uncomfortable as possible, especially on defense.
"If they're going to get anything, they're going to have to outwork us pretty much so nothing is just given to them," Adams said.
This is an important week for the Huskies, who also take on nationally-ranked Florida State on Saturday in the Never Forget Tribute Classic in Newark, N.J. They first host Lafayette on Wednesday.
Location: XL Center, Hartford
Time: 1 p.m. (ESPN2)
Records: UConn 6-1, Arizona 5-2
Last game: UConn beat UMass Lowell, 97-75, Tuesday; Arizona defeated Georgia Southern, 100-70, Thursday.
Probable starters: Arizona, 6-2 fr. guard Brandon Williams (12.8 pts, 4.2 assists), 5-10 sr. guard Justin Coleman (13.3 pts, 3 assists), 6-6 so. guard Brandon Randolph (17.3 pts, 3.5 rebs), 6-9 sr. forward Ryan Luther (6.3 pts, 6.3 rebs), 6-10 r-jr. center Chase Jeter (11.5 pts, 7.2 rebs).
UConn, 6-3 sr. guard Jalen Adams (18.4 pts), 6-0 redshirt so. guard Alterique Gilbert (13.1 pts, 4.3 assists), 6-2 jr. guard Christian Vital (12.3 pts, 5.4 rebs), 6-8 so. forward Tyler Polley (8.9 pts, 2.9 rebs), 6-10 so. forward Josh Carlton (9.6 pts, 4.7 rebs)
Noteworthy: 4th straight home game for Huskies, winners of three straight. ... Series: UConn leads, 5-1, losing 73-58 last season in Tuscon. Wildcats lost all five starters from Pac-12 championship team that went 27-8. ...Two Wildcat losses vs. top 10 teams in Gonzaga and Auburn in Maui. Picked 4th in Pac-12 preseason poll ... Top reserve: 6-7 so. forward Ira Lee (6.6 pts, 5.6 rebs). ... Arizona forcing 15 turnovers per game and out-rebounding foes by 2.0. Like balanced Huskies, four players score in double figures. ... Coleman 48.4 percent (15-for-31) from 3-point range but only 31.7 percent as a team. ... Arizona's Sean Miller (Pittsburgh) and UConn's Dan Hurley (Seton Hall) former competitors as players in Big East. ... Luther (Pittsburgh), Jeter (Duke) and Coleman (Samford) all transfers. ... Hot: UConn 1st in AAC in scoring at 86.9 pts per game. Cold: Huskies 10th in scoring defense in AAC at 74 pts. ... Adams and Gilbert only Huskies to score in double figures every game. ... UConn 5-0 at home. ... Up next: UConn hosts Lafayette at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Hartford.
— Gavin Keefe
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