Will UConn men respond to Hurley's challenge against Drexel?
UConn coach Dan Hurley's frustration level has likely dropped considerably since Saturday night.
Then again, it really had nowhere to go but down.
Following an ugly win over Manhattan, Hurley reserved the biggest criticism for his perimeter players, especially senior Jalen Adams.
"If we think that guard play overall across the board is going to be good enough for us to do well in league and to close out the rest of the non-conference schedule, we're kidding ourselves," Hurley said. "That was a pretty disappointing perimeter/guard performance from the group."
It will be interesting to watch how UConn (8-3) responds Tuesday when it hosts Drexel at the XL Center in Hartford (7 p.m., SNY).
Hurley has stated several times that the Huskies will only go as far as their backcourt will power them this season. Starting guards Adams, Christian Vital and Alterique Gilbert all posted negative assist to turnover ratios against Manhattan, combining for eight assists and 12 turnovers.
"It's just not going to get us very far this year," Hurley said.
Through 11 games, Adams has just one more assist than turnover while Vital is a negative 10 in that department. Gilbert is on the positive side, with a team-high 50 assists to go with 26 turnovers.
Mistake-prone play from the backcourt is an ongoing issue.
The perimeter players also are misfiring from 3-point range. In the last two games, UConn converted just 11 of 44 attempts (25 percent) from behind the arc, lowering its overall percentage to 33.7. Every Husky but Gilbert (42.9) is below 40 percent from bonus land.
Put in extra work beyond the 20 hours per week as a team. His predecessor, Kevin Ollie, preached the same message while the Huskies suffered through two straight losing seasons.
"You've got to get in the gym," Hurley said. "You've got to get extra shooting in at night, in the morning before school, when school is over. But that's a cultural thing that takes a little time to build.
"We have too many guys that are shooting in the mid to low 30s from three. ... If we're going to be guard-oriented attack, we're going to have to shoot the ball much better from the three-point line. In order for us to do that, guys are going to live in the gym and shoot more."
Hurley paused and then added: "If they want to, that's voluntary for them to do, too."
Then there's the case of Adams, UConn's leading man.
Hurley was especially critical of Adams on Saturday. A passive Adams got in early foul trouble and finished with his lowest point total since early March of his freshman year, scoring two points on one for four from the field in just over 21 minutes. You have to go back near the end of his sophomore year to find the last time he failed to take double digit field goal attempts in a game.
It's not what you'd expect from a senior and star player.
"For us to play at a high level this year, he needs to play like one of the best guards in the country," Hurley said. "For whatever reason, he wasn't dialed in, locked in and ready to go at the level of a player of his caliber. He has a limited number of opportunities as a senior to play at the highest possible that he can play at."
During his postgame locker room speech, Hurley reminded his veterans — Adams, Eric Cobb, graduate transfers Kassoum Yakwe and Tarin Smith — that their final season should be precious. Only Yakwe played with the necessary sense of urgency against Manhattan, Hurley said.
"We're going all in to try to have the best possible year for the senior class so you can experience something really, really positive on your way out the door," said Hurley.
The Huskies agree that the solution to their problems starts with practice. They're can't afford to take any team, including Drexel, lightly. The Dragons (6-5), a Colonial Athletic Association team picked to finish near the bottom of its league, are a dangerous offensive team with a lethal 3-point shooting attack.
Vital isn't overly concerned about his team's issues at this stage of the season.
"Do we have things that we need to work on and clean up? One hundred percent," Vital said. "It's a long season. We're 11 games in. We've got a lot of time. We plan on playing in March. So I feel like we do have time to pick it up."
UCONN vs. DREXEL
Location: XL Center, Hartford
Tip: 7 p.m. (SNY)
Records: UConn 8-3, Drexel 6-5
Last game: UConn beat Manhattan, 61-46, Saturday; Drexel defeated Quinnipiac, 92-83, Sunday
Probable starters: Drexel, 6-3 grad. guard Trevor John (13.4 pts), 6-2 fr. guard Camren Wynter (10.9 pts, 5.8 assists, 4.6 rebs), 6-1 sr. guard Troy Harper (13.5 pts), 6-8 so. forward James Butler (10.1 pts, 8.2 rebs), 6-9 jr. forward Alihan Demir (15.4 pts, 7 rebs)
UConn, 6-3 sr. guard Jalen Adams (17.1 pts), 6-0 redshirt so. guard Alterique Gilbert (12.5 pts, 4.5 assists), 6-2 jr. guard Christian Vital (11.5 pts, 5.2 rebs), 6-8 so. forward Tyler Polley (9 pts, 2.7 rebs), 6-10 so. forward Josh Carlton (8.3 pts, 4.4 rebs)
Noteworthy: Next to last non-conference game before AAC opener Jan. 2 at South Florida. ... First meeting between two programs. ... Drexel 9th out of 10 teams in Colonial Athletic Association preseason poll. ... Rallied from 16-pt deficit to beat Quinnipiac. Won three of last four. ... Top reserve: jr. guard Kurk Lee (9.7 pts). ... High-scoring Dragons average 82.2 pts and sink 8.5 3-pointers per game, converting 49 percent from field, 40.6 from beyond the arc. ... John top 3-pt weapon at 49 percent (43-for-88). .... Hot: Carlton 2nd in AAC in FG percentage at 62.3. Cold: Huskies 11 for 44 from 3-point range in last 2 games. ... UConn 44-5 vs. CAA teams in school history. ... Huskies 7-1 at home, only loss to Arizona at XL Center. Drexel 1-3 on the road, beating LaSalle. ... UConn plays defending national champion Villanova on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden in New York.
— Gavin Keefe
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