Huskies can't seem to muster the fire, intensity of their coach

Storrs — Dan Hurley is on a mission to instill a fighter's mentality in his UConn basketball program.

It's a familiar role. He did the same thing in previous coaching stops at Rhode Island and Wagner, where he turned two struggling programs into title contenders in their respective conferences.

Hurley is willing to crawl through broken glass to win a game.

His Huskies, on the other hand, are still trying to establish the competitive edge necessary to become a successful program once again.

Until that happens, Hurley will do his best to set the tone for his team.

"When on the court lacks a fiery leader, it's got to come from somewhere," Hurley said on Friday. "That's the way it was the first couple of years at Rhode Island, that's the way it was my first year at Wagner, I had to be the driving force. I had to be the lightning rod to get the fight out of the team.

"If that's what it's got to be here, and if I've got to sweat through my suit and slide up and down the sideline and demand effort and fight for everything, and that's what we have to do to build a culture of fighters and competitors and people that won't accept losing, that's just the way it is when you're trying to build a culture."

The Huskies (10-8, 1-4) are sinking instead of rising in the American Athletic Conference. They've dropped five of six overall. And they looked like a floundering team in Wednesday's loss at Tulsa.

Tulane (4-12, 0-4), losers of a season-high six straight, visits Gampel Pavilion at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Originally scheduled for a 7:30 start, the game was moved back due to an impending storm.

"We've dropped some games that we felt we should have won," junior Christian Vital said. "We just didn't play a full 40 minutes or play enough defense. I think the message is clear now what we need to do and it's on the players to do it."

The Huskies are dealing with several issues, including defensive breakdowns. Conference opponents are shooting 45.3 percent.

UConn played too passively versus Tulsa and was regularly beaten off the dribble.

"We were a lot more intense with our preparation the last two days," Hurley said. "We've got to get back to the way we guarded versus Cincinnati and SMU. But again, it's symptoms. We're not a good team right now. We're not where we need to be as a program. Teams that aren't good are inconsistent with how they show up on game nights. I've obviously have got to do a better job of having us ready to defend better. It takes a little bit of time."

They're also racking up frequent foul mileage. In the last two games, both road losses, opponents have attempted 43 more free throws and outscored UConn 51-25 from the line.

"Teams that aren't good, they commit bad fouls," Hurley said. "My job here is not to worry about the foul discrepancies. I've got a big job here. My job is to get this team ready the best that I can to win the next game tomorrow. The bigger picture, I've got to get this program back, in terms of rebuilding it ... back to the level that this program needs to be at it. The reality of it is, we're pretty far away from that."

Hurley doesn't plan on any changes in his animated sideline behavior. He was ejected for the second time this season during Wednesday's game along with Tulsa coach Frank Haith. He criticized officials post-game.

He says he knows when he's crossed the line in his sideline behavior, adding that he hasn't reached that point this season. He'll continue to be a very passionate and very intense coach.

"When you're not competing at the top of your league, it's very frustrating at times," Hurley said. "It's frustrating for the players, frustrating for the coaches. Plus, you're trying to instill this fighter's mindset into your team. You're going to see a more animated Dan Hurley in year one and year two, then you will see in year three, four, five, six ... once we've established ourselves as what need to be here at UConn.

"You'll see that there will be nights where I'll be fighting for every single call because I want my team to fight for every single thing on the court."

g.keefe@theday.com

UCONN vs. TULANE

Location: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs

Tip: 2 p.m. (no live TV)

Records: UConn 10-8, 1-4; Tulane 4-12, 0-4

Last game: UConn lost at Tulsa, 89-83; Wednesday; Tulane lost to Memphis, 83-79, Sunday

Probable starters: Tulane, 6-6 fr. guard Connor Crabtree (5.7 pts), 6-4 so. guard Caleb Daniels (15.5 pts, 5.1 rebs), 6-9 fr. forward Kevin Zhang (7.7 pts, 2.7 rebs), 6-9 r-jr. forward Samir Sehic (11.5 pts, 7.9 rebs), 7-0 r-fr. center Buay Koka (3.7 pts, 2.6 rebs)

UConn, 6-3 sr. guard Jalen Adams (17.4 pts), 6-0 redshirt so. guard Alterique Gilbert (13.4 pts, 3.7 assists), 6-2 jr. guard Christian Vital (13 pts, 5.5 rebs), 6-8 so. forward Tyler Polley (7.5 pts, 2.3 rebs), 6-10 so. forward Josh Carlton (7 pts, 4.5 rebs)

Noteworthy: Game moved from 7:30 to 2 p.m. due to impending storm. ... UConn lost five of six, Tulane dropped season-high six straight. ... Series: UConn leads, 6-0, winning last meeting 67-57 on Jan. 13, 2018 in New Orleans. Adams with 25 pts. ... Top reserve: 6-5 r-fr. guard Shakwon Barrett (7.3 pts, 2.4 rebs). ... Sehic with six double-doubles this season, two in last three games. ... Five different players scored at least 20 pts in a game, the most in the AAC. ... Coach Mike Dunleavy Sr.'s son Baker is head coach at Quinnipiac. Mike Dunleavy spent 30 over years in NBA as a player, GM or coach... Tulane last in AAC in scoring (67.4 pts), scoring margin (-7.2), rebounding margin (-1.5), turnover margin (-3.7). ... Hot:.Vital averaging 6.2 rebounds in last five games. Cold: Huskies shooting 40.5 percent and averaging 15.6 turnovers in eight losses. ... Injury news: Reserve Sid Wilson (ankle, thumb) a game time decision. ... Foes taken 64 more FTs than Huskies in last five games. ... UConn at 9-2 home, Tulane 0-3 on the road. ... CBS Sports Network with re-air game at 7:30 p.m. ... Up next: UConn off until hosting Wichita St., Saturday, Jan. 26.

— Gavin Keefe


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