No. 11 Florida State a matchup nightmare for UConn men

UConn has bounced between trying to avoid and author disasters, depending on the game this season.

The Huskies have dodged disasters that hurt them in recent seasons, posting the expected blowouts. But they've fallen short in their upset quest two out of three times, with only a win over Syracuse to their credit.

Another tough test is ahead for UConn (7-2) on Saturday when it faces No. 11 Florida State (7-1) in the Never Forget Tribute Classic (6:30 p.m., ESPN2) at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

"Obviously, an incredible challenge Saturday because we're playing against one of the most physical, athletic teams in the country," coach Dan Hurley said. "I don't think we've seen anyone that looks like these men we're going to play.

"It's such a great opportunity for us with where we've been, to go back and play in the Metropolitan area and hopefully we have good fan support like we always get there. Just trying to put ourselves in position, like the Syracuse game, to have a chance to win."

The Seminoles are a matchup nightmare.

They returned the bulk of a team that reached the NCAA Elite Eight last season. They're deep, talented, balanced and physically tough. Five players average at least 9.5 points per game, led by 6-foot-7 senior swingman Terance Mann, whom Hurley recruited while at Rhode Island. They create havoc, forcing an average of 17.5 turnovers per game. Their only loss is to defending national champion Villanova.

The Huskies have beaten only one top 15 program (then-No. 15 Syracuse earlier this yeare) since knocking off top-ranked Florida in the 2014 national semifinal game.

Under Hurley, they've closed the competitive gap from last season.

"I've enjoyed watching the progress of UConn's team," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "It seems as though they are really buying into their coach's intensity, his energy, the execution. ... They are representing a little bit more what the Hurley tradition has always been — tough, aggressive, hard-nosed, competitive play."

"I have no doubt over a period of time, it's not going to be long, that they'll get there."

The Huskies are not quite there yet.

They paid dearly for their mistakes in losses to Iowa and Arizona. Defensive breakdowns and turnovers prevented them for stunning Arizona in a four-point home loss on Sunday. It was a game that Hurley believed his Huskies should have won.

Hurley has his share of concerns playing Florida State.

"What probably scares me the most with this opponent would be our ability to guard the ball and stay in front of the ball with their physical drivers and then the war that's going to go on when the ball goes up," Hurley said. "When they shoot it, they attack it with men.

"For us to have a chance on Saturday, we're going to have to take a locked-in approach and not give away many, if any, possessions offensively or defensively. We can't have any weakness in terms of shot selection. We can't have any weakness in terms of driving it into their length and throwing wild things up on the backboard, or turning it over and then they're getting run-outs.

"We're going to have to play really responsibly at both ends for a full 40 minutes. If we have lulls with these guys, it will get away from us quick."

Saturday's game holds extra meaning for Hurley and graduate transfer Tarin Smith, two New Jersey natives. Hurley also spent nine years coaching and teaching at nearby St. Benedict's Preparatory School.

"I'm really excited," said Smith, a St. Anthony's High School graduate. "I probably have a bunch of people coming. I went to high school not too far from there. It's going to be a big time game. This is the reason why you come here to play in games like this.

"You want to go to your hometown and you want to show them what you've been working on and make them proud, so that's what we're going to do."

g.keefe@theday.com

UCONN vs. NO. 11 FLORIDA STATE

Location: Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.

Tip: 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Records: UConn 7-2, Florida State 7-1

Last game: UConn beat Lafayette, 90-63, Wednesday; Florida State defeated Troy, 83-67, Monday

Probable starters: Florida State, 6-4 jr. guard Trent Forrest (10.3 pts, 4.9 rebs, 3.6 assists), 6-5 sr. guard MJ Walker (10.3 pts), 6-4 sr. guard PJ Savoy (9.5 pts), 6-7 sr. forward Terance Mann (11.1 pts, 7.3 rebs), 7-4 sr. center Christ Koumadje (7.3 pts, 5.1 rebs)

UConn, 6-3 sr. guard Jalen Adams (19 pts), 6-0 redshirt so. guard Alterique Gilbert (11.3 pts, 4.8 assists), 6-2 jr. guard Christian Vital (12.3 pts, 5.1 rebs), 6-8 so. forward Tyler Polley (9.6 pts, 2.8 rebs), 6-10 so. forward Josh Carlton (8.7 pts, 4.4 rebs)

Noteworthy: Never Forget Tribute Classic event. ... Homecoming for N.J. natives Tarin Smith, coach Dan Hurley.  ... Series: UConn trails, 4-3, winning last meeting 78-76 (OT) in 2011 Battle 4 Atlantis in Bahamas. ... Huskies ended 15-game losing streak vs. top 25 foes by beating then-No. 15 Syracuse on Nov. 15. ... Heart of Seminoles' roster back from last year's Elite Eight team. ... FSU's only loss to defending champ Villanova. Quality wins over Purdue, LSU, Florida. ... Seminoles force 17.5 turnovers per game, commit 15.6. ... Top reserve: 6-10 r-so. forward Mfiondu Kabengele (11 pts, 4.3 rebs). ... Seminoles outrebound foes by 7.2 per game. ... Injury update: Top returning scorer Phil Cofer (foot) doubtful. Missed first 8 games. ... Leonard Hamilton 5-11 vs. Huskies in coaching career (0-1 at FSU, 5-10 at Miami). ... Hot: Eric "Big Game" Cobb averaging 13.7 pts, 6.7 pts in three games vs. Power Five opponents. Cold: Vital averaging 3.1 turnovers per game. ... Polley's father, Tommy, a former All-American LB at FSU. ... UConn 4-1 at Prudential Center, all vs. Seton Hall. ... Up next: UConn hosts Manhattan Saturday in Storrs.

— Gavin Keefe


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