UConn men will try to build on recent success
Dealing with a successful stretch is something new to the UConn basketball team under second-year coach Dan Hurley.
Hurley is quick to remind the Huskies that their work is far from done despite their impressive string of performances.
"We've been on them pretty good," Hurley said after Friday's workout.
UConn (4-2), which has suffered through three straight losing seasons, is coming off its best four-game stretch in recent years.
After upsetting No. 15 Florida, the Huskies played in the Charleston Classic and beat a strong mid-major program in Buffalo, took No. 18 Xavier to double overtime before losing and then routed Miami of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The players took Hurley's message to heart during practice this week.
"We had a great tournament, but it's still just something to learn from about how good we can be," sophomore Brendan Adams said. "At the same time, we still didn't win the tournament. There's definitely a lot more that we've got to do this season."
Freshman Jalen Gaffney added: "We haven't accomplished anything at all."
The sign of a maturing team is not suffering any letdown after a good win. So it will be interesting to see how UConn responds on Sunday against Maine (2-4) at the XL Center in Hartford (1 p.m., SNY).
The Huskies have an opportunity to pile up some wins over the next six games before entering American Athletic Conference play. The only significant roadblock is a Jimmy V Classic meeting with Indiana on Dec. 10 in Madison Square Garden in New York.
"We already had a letdown this year," Adams said, talking about a home loss to Saint Joseph's on Nov. 13. "So it's very important that we don't have a letdown and we keep playing as hard as we've been playing."
Hurley learned a great deal about his team over the last two weeks.
The addition of freshman James Bouknight, who created a buzz with his superb play in Charleston, has made the Huskies a deeper, more talented team. Adams and redshirt freshman Akok Akok both had their share of highlight moments while the team's veterans made key contributions.
There's a growing belief that the Huskies are starting to build something special, but the Huskies are far from a finished product.
"We're staying after these guys and demanding these guys to have full urgent, intense practices," Hurley said. "You can't pace yourself. Older guys can't pace themselves. We have a template of how we need to play. We have a deep team. You've got to play the right way and you've got to guard. You've got to take good shots. You've got to take care of the ball.
"It takes some time to develop habits. It's a mindset and a culture that you've got to develop. It doesn't happen overnight."
Hurley says his deep bench will allow them to increase their pressure defense, play faster and hopefully produce more easy baskets.
It's important that the Huskies remain focused on team success, according to Hurley, and not worry about personal numbers.
"When you're in a good program and you've made NCAA tournaments and you're winning, everyone gets recognition and everyone is considered a valuable player because their organization is successful," Hurley said. "When you haven't been in that environment, you don't really understand that and then you're running looking for boxscores."
Sunday's game will reveal more about the Huskies.
Maine isn't an easy team to play against. The Black Bears are deliberate, regularly forcing their opponents to play defense for nearly the entire shot clock. They met their style match in defending national champion Virginia, losing 46-26 on Wednesday.
UConn will look to impose its will and speed up the game.
"I think they're 353rd (in the country) in pace of play on offense, so they're really, really deliberate," Hurley said. "We've obviously got to get after them and speed them up a little bit and really have a mature approach."
UCONN vs MAINE
Location: XL Center, Hartford
Tip: 1 p.m. (SNY)
Records: UConn 4-2, Maine 2-4
Last game: UConn beat Miami, 80-55, on Sunday; Maine lost at Virginia, 46-26, Wednesday
Probable starters: UConn, 6-0 r-jr. guard Alterique Gilbert (9.3 pts, 4 assists), 6-2 sr. guard Christian Vital (16 pts, 9 rebs, 3.1 assists, 3.2 steals), 6-8 jr. forward Tyler Polley (9.7 pts, 3 rebs), 6-9 r-fr. forward Akok Akok (6 pts, 6 rebs, 3.1 blks), 6-11 jr. center Josh Carlton (13 pts, 8 rebs)
Maine, 6-5 r-so guard Mykhailo Yagodin (4.3 pts, 3 rebs ), 6-7 sr. forward Andrew Fleming (18.2 pts, 6.5 rebs), 6-8 jr. forward Miks Antoms (3.2 pts, 3.8 rebs), 6-8 r-jr. forward Nedeljko Prijovic (9.8 pts, 7 rebs), 6-8 jr. forward Vilgot Larsson (7.7 pts, 2.8 rebs).
Noteworthy: Huskies won last 31 XL Center season openers. ... UConn won 13 straight in the series, leading 84-16 overall. Won last four meetings by an average of 27 points, including 100-56 in 2015. ... Maine held to season-low 26 pts vs. defending national champion Virginia. Averages 60.2 pts per game. ... Black Bears picked eighth in America East preseason poll. ... Seven freshmen on Maine roster, with players from 10 different countries. ... Wins against Merrimack and Maine Maritime. ... Maine out-rebounding foes by 6.1. ... Top reserve: 6-4 sr. guard Sergio El Darwich (11.3 pts, 5.5 rebs, 4 assists). ... 2nd-year coach Richard Barron ran the Maine women's program from 2011-17. ... Hot: UConn fr. James Bouknight shooting 72.7 percent (16-for-22) from field in three games. Cold: Gilbert sinking 22.2 percent (14-for-63). ... Huskies converting just 41.1 percent from field. ... Injury update: reserve Sid Wilson (knee) a game time decision. ... Vital ranks fifth in nation in totals steals with 19. ... Up next: UConn hosts Iona Wednesday in Storrs.
— Gavin Keefe
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