UConn men trending in right direction entering game at Tulsa

UConn coach Dan Hurley measures his team's progress by more than just wins and losses.

Effort and attitude count a great deal to Hurley.

Judging from recent performances, the Huskies are trending upward with a strong home win over SMU and a hard-fought overtime loss at Cincinnati last week.

They're in a good place entering Wednesday's American Athletic Conference game at Tulsa (7 p.m., ESPNews) at Reynolds Coliseum.

"Obviously, I feel a lot better about week two of conference play than week one," Hurley said on Monday. "I feel like we showed improvement and look to be a team progressing in the right direction. We defended well in both games, took care of the ball better. Obviously had chances to win the Saturday game against a very good Cincinnati team on the road, so a lot to learn from there. Tough loss, obviously, to handle there with plenty of opportunities to win.

"Thrilled with the way of some of our younger players played and obviously Jalen (Adams) and Alterique (Gilbert) had moments where they played high-level ball. Just trying to keep this thing improving and get ready for a very good Tulsa team."

UConn (10-7, 1-3) has lost four of its last five games, including a tough 74-72 overtime defeat at Cincinnati on Saturday. The Huskies rallied late in regulation to force overtime on Gilbert's buzzer-beating shot but couldn't finish the job.

Now they'll play in a building where they've never won in four trips. But they're getting close, losing the last two visits by two points each — one in double overtime, one in overtime.

Tulsa (11-6, 1-3) is 9-1 at home this season.

"I think most teams play better at home than on the road," said Tulsa coach Frank Haith when asked about their home court advantage. "I really appreciate our support in terms of our fans and our student body and their energy in the building. We just play better when we play at home. We play with a little bit pop, a little bit more confidence.

"Last year's game, we were fortunate to win the game. We hit a three falling out of bounds. ... And we've had a couple of games like that against UConn, where we've just made more plays down the stretch."

Throw in UConn's road woes in league play — 6-19 since the start of the 2016-17 season — and the Huskies face some obstacles.

"We don't have a long history there obviously in terms of number of games," Hurley said. "But we haven't won there yet. Frank does a great job. Well-rounded team. (Martins) Igbanu is one of the better interior players in the league. Some pretty good perimeter shooters in (Jeriah) Horne and (Curran) Scott. (Sterling) Taplin is outstanding point guard.

"Then another match-up zone that's tricky to play against, not exactly the same as Cincinnati but some different type of wrinkles. Again, tough place to play. Historically, they've been strong at home. It hasn't been too kind to UConn recently."

Tulsa is dealing with its own recent struggles, losing three of its last four games.

With the exception of Saturday's 20-point road loss to SMU, Haith has been pleased with his team's competitive level this season.

Haith offered what he's seen from Hurley's Huskies this season.

"The times I've watched them, obviously they compete at a high, high level," Haith said. "Our league, if you're not ready to play, you get embarrassed. UConn is one of those teams because of their guards, those guys can score on all three levels. All three of them — (Christian) Vital, Jalen and Alterique — they put so much pressure on you.

"They compete. They really get after it. Danny's got those guys playing extremely hard. I was really impressed watching them over the weekend at Cincinnati and how well they competed against those guys."

A victory on Wednesday could potentially jumpstart a nice run for the Huskies, who host Tulane Saturday and Wichita State on Jan. 26, two teams with losing overall records also still searching for their first AAC win.

g.keefe@theday.com

UCONN at TULSA

Location: Reynolds Center, Tulsa, Okla.

Tip: 7 p.m. (ESPNews)

Records: UConn 10-7, 1-3; Tulsa 11-6, 1-3

Last game: UConn lost at Cincinnati, 74-72 (OT), Saturday; Tulsa fell at SMU, 77-57, Saturday

Probable starters: Tulsa, 6-1 sr. guard Sterling Taplin (9.6 pts, 4.7 assists), 6-4 r-jr. guard Curran Scott (7.2 pts), 6-5 jr. guard Lawson Korita (6.4 pts), 6-5 sr. forward DaQuan Jeffries (13.4 pts, 5.5 rebs), 6-8 jr. forward Martins Igbanu (12.2 pts, 5.6 rebs)

UConn, 6-3 sr. guard Jalen Adams (16.8 pts), 6-0 redshirt so. guard Alterique Gilbert (13.5 pts, 3.8 assists), 6-2 jr. guard Christian Vital (12.9 pts, 5.4 rebs), 6-8 so. forward Tyler Polley (7.6 pts, 2.3 rebs), 6-10 so. forward Josh Carlton (7.1 pts, 4.4 rebs)

Noteworthy: UConn lost four of five, Tulsa three of four. ... Golden Hurricane 9-1, Huskies 0-2 on road. ... Series: UConn trails, 5-4, losing twice last season – 90-88 (2OTs) on road, 73-71 in Hartford. Taplin with game-high 30 pts in regulation win. Last three meetings each decided by two points. ... One of three AAC arenas where UConn is winless, going 0-4. SMU's Moody Coliseum and Witchita St's Koch Arena the others. ... Both teams lost to Cincinnati in OT last week. ... Other Tulsa AAC losses at SMU, at Houston. ... Top reserve: 6-7 r-so. forward Jeriah Horne (8.2 pts, 4.2 rebs). ... Taplin played for Jere Quinn at St. Thomas More. ... Tulsa only AAC team to finish better than preseason pick in all four league seasons. Chosen 9th this season. ... Golden Hurricane with 3rd most AAC wins (47) since joining league. ... Tulsa shot 100 more FTs than its foes.... Hurricane last in AAC in rebounding margin (minus 1.7). ... Hot: Carlton averaging 9 pts, 8.5 rebs in last two games. Cold: Huskies shooting 40 percent from field in AAC action. ... Adams third among AAC all-time scorers with 1,553 points, fourth in assists at 478. ... Up next: UConn hosts Tulane Saturday night in Storrs.

— Gavin Keefe

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