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UConn answers Hurley's challenge, responds with rout of Drexel

Hartford — A nip here, a tuck there.

While UConn didn't undergo cosmetic surgery since Saturday's ugly win over Manhattan, it certainly tightened things up.

The Huskies just looked better in all areas during a tidy 97-65 rout of Drexel Tuesday before 6,951 fans at the XL Center.

"Much happier with today's performance than Saturday night," coach Dan Hurley said. "The guys responded well. The older players, the leaders, prepared the right way coming off of the dreary performance versus Manhattan.

"We just looked sharp, looked determined."

The Huskies (9-3) played with a renewed focus on both ends. They tied a season high for points and shot a season-best 60 percent from the field while posting their largest margin of victory this season. They went 10 for 17 from 3-point range after sinking just 4 of 23 in the previous game. They committed just 10 turnovers, 4.3 fewer than their season average.

Junior Christian Vital credited UConn's sizzling shooting to accepting Hurley's challenge.

"He said we needed to get extra shots up and just be more committed to the game of basketball as a team," Vital said. "A lot more guys were getting up shots. We just accepted that challenge and it paid off tonight."

Defensively, UConn held the Dragons (6-6) well under their season average of 82.2 points. Drexel converted 42.2 percent from the field.

"Recently, we let up and teams have shot high percentages against us," senior Jalen Adams said. "We just really wanted to get that mentality back."

Adams ditched the white headband that he wore while scoring a season-low two points on Saturday and responded to Hurley's criticism by playing an efficient game, tying Tarin Smith with a team-high 20 points. Smith added five rebounds and five assists while Vital had 17 points and team-high six rebounds.

Hurley saw a difference in Adams in practice.

"I have sky high expectations for Jalen Adams, so does he," Hurley said. "He handled it the right way in terms of owning it. In everything we did, super attentive, super serious in terms of his preparation. We talked about atonement Tuesday. We wanted to atone for our performance on Saturday and he led the charge that way."

Adams added: "Mainly where I took the challenge was just in practice. Leading up to the game, I knew if I did the right things in practice, it would carry over. I wasn't forcing things on offense."

With a huge game against Villanova looming on Saturday in New York, the Huskies entered the Drexel game on a mission.

"We wanted to get momentum going into the next game — that's a big one — and just play a complete game," said Smith, who made all seven field goal attempts.

The Huskies did just that, leading 42-28 at halftime. Sidney Wilson came off the bench to deliver the game's highlight reel play, blocking a shot and then dunking home a rebound at other end for a 36-16 edge.

They continued to play with great energy and enthusiasm in the second half and gradually built a comfortable lead. Vital outbattled two Drexel players for a rebound and scored on the put-back for a 62-41 edge. He flexed his muscles and posed for the crowd before jogging back down the floor.

Sophomore Tyler Polley's 3-pointer increased the gap to 30 (75-45) for the first time. The Huskies led by as many as 36.

The Huskies already are eagerly anticipating Saturday's showdown with their former Big East combatant, and reigning national champ, at Madison Square Garden.

"We know it's going to be two really good teams going at it," Vital said. "We knew it was important to finish today the right way leading into the rest of the week."

g.keefe@theday.com


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