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UConn men enter 'Bubbleville' on Thursday to face talented Southern Cal

Gladiator-type toughness is the trademark of any Dan Hurley coached team.

UConn has fallen far short of Hurley's high standard so far this season.

Hurley put his Huskies through the grinder during practice leading up to Thursday's Legend Classic game against Southern Cal at Mohegan Sun Arena (7 p.m., ESPN).

"It's been chaos," Hurley said. "We practiced three of the last four days and it's been a cauldron of intensity because of the last 23 minutes of that Hartford game (Friday). Full disclosure: It's been a revolving door of players going from the starting team to the second team.

"There's a standard at the defensive end that you've got to uphold. There's a standard of toughness that you've got to uphold if you're going to play for me. ... Everyone's position on this team has been up for grabs the last two days. We're trying to send a message that we need to be a much tougher team and that starts (Thursday night)."

Watching USC (3-0) dismantle BYU, 79-53, on Tuesday after entering "Bubbleville" at the Sun got UConn's attention if the Pac-12 opponent hadn't already.

The Trojans relied on a balanced scoring attack and tough defense to put on a dominating performance against a quality opponent.

"When you watch the film and watch the edit, you certainly understand that we've got to be at our toughest and most competitive because they've got just some serious athletic talent and size," Hurley said.

Coach Andy Enfield rebuilt a team that lost four starters by bringing in eight new players, including top three recruit Eric Mobley and five transfers. Mobley, a 7-foot freshman forward averaging 16.3 points and nine rebounds, combines with his brother Isaiah (10.3 points, 11.3 rebounds), a 6-10 sophomore forward, to form a formidable inside duo.

The Trojans also can turn up the defense, limiting opponents to 35.6 percent from the field.

"We have a tough game on Thursday against UConn, so we can't pat ourselves on the back," said Enfield during Tuesday's postgame press conference. "They have an excellent program, excellent players and team. So we know we're going to be in for a big time, high level basketball game."

UConn ended up having more time than expected to prepare for the Trojans. Hurley learned mid-practice on Sunday that Vanderbilt couldn't play the Huskies Tuesday for COVID-19 reasons.

Hurley turned up the heat in practice.

"The extra time gave us the opportunity to grind these guys up and to set more of a tone for how our team wants to look here in terms of competitive fire," Hurley said. "Execution is going to be messy. You're going to have defensive mistakes because you just haven't had enough time to understand all aspects of the system.

"How do teams still give themselves a chance to win? Togetherness, toughness, playing for each other, being physical, not getting beat off the dribble the way we were getting beat off the dribble consistently in the first two games. Toughness things. Put a body on somebody. We need to see growth that way."

Playing USC and then North Carolina State (Saturday) will give Hurley a revealing look at where his team stands. The Huskies are taking a considerable step up in competition from last week's two games.

"They're exciting games to play because you're going to find out a lot about your team and what's the best course of action coming out of it," Hurley said. "Unlike the first two games where you're playing low to mid-major types, you actually get a chance to go for what would be a really good win as opposed to avoid losing a game that would really blow up your season, especially if you aspire to be a team that's playing in March."

News and notes

UConn arrived at Mohegan Sun around 5 p.m. Wednesday. After the team took a COVID-19 test, the Huskies went right to their hotel rooms. Test results are expected to be back in 12 to 14 hours. ... With the Huskies restricted to their hotel room floors, Hurley planned to hold a team meeting and watch film in the hallway. ... Hurley hopes to add a "really good" game to the schedule for Monday "if we can find the right dance partner for us." ... Akok Akok took another step forward in his comeback from an Achilles injury, practicing five-on-five in the full court. "He looks really great in terms of his health," Hurley said. Akok didn't practice on Wednesday due to a slight hamstring strain. He's not expected to be ready to play a game for a couple of weeks.

g.keefe@theday.com

UCONN vs. SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Location: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville

Tip: 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Records: UConn 2-0, USC 3-0

Last game: UConn beat Hartford, 69-57, Friday; USC defeated BYU, 79-53, Tuesday

Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 r-jr. guard R.J. Cole (13.5 pts, 3.5 assists, 2.5 steals), 6-3 so. guard Jalen Gaffney (10.5 pts), 6-5 so. guard James Bouknight (19 pts, 6 rebs), 6-9 sr. forward Tyler Polley (7 pts, 4.5 rebs), 6-9 sr. forward Isaiah Whaley (11 pts, 8.5 rebs, 3 blks)

USC, 6-2 r-sr. guard Tahj Eaddy (12.7 pts, 3.3 assists), 6-1 so. guard Ethan Anderson (6.7 pts), 6-8 jr. guard Drew Peterson (14.7 pts, 4.7 rebs), 6-10 so. forward Isaiah Mobley (10.3 pts, 11.3 rebs), 7-0 fr. forward Evan Mobley (16.3 pts, 9 rebs, 2 blks)

Noteworthy: Roman Legends Classic game. ... First of two games in Bubbleville for Huskies. ... Series: first meeting. ... Trojans wins over BYU, Montana, California Baptist. ... Picked to place sixth in Pac-12 preseason poll. .... USC won 109 in last five seasons, the winningest stretch in program history. ... Balanced scoring: Four players average in double figures for both USC and UConn. ... Mobley brothers averaging a combined 26.6 points and 20.3 rebounds. ... Top reserve: 6-7 r-sr. guard Isaiah White (8.3 pts, 3 rebs). ... USC outrebounded foes by 16.3 margin, converted 53.5 percent from field and held opponents to 35.6 percent. ... Eaddy attended Notre Dame-West Haven for the first three years of high school. Played at Southeast Missouri St. and Santa Clara before transferring to USC for grad year. ... Bouknight team's top scorer in each of the first two games. ... First regular season game for Huskies at Mohegan Sun. Played Providence in an exhibition in 2017. ... UConn won seven straight dating back to last season. ... Injury news: Akok Akok (Achilles) progressed to playing 5-on-5 in practice but still out. USC's Anderson was limited to nine minutes vs. BYU due to a back issue. ... Up next: UConn plays North Carolina State at noon at Mohegan Sun Arena.

— Gavin Keefe

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