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Huskies looking for their fourth straight win

When the Associated Press top 25 college basketball poll is released on Monday, UConn could be ranked for the first time since November 2016.

The Huskies put themselves in position to possibly enter the rankings by winning two straight road games by double digits and starting the season at 6-1 overall.

They'll go for three straight victories on the road and four in a row overall on Monday at DePaul. Game time is 6 p.m. at Wintrust Arena in Chicago.

A ranking will be another sign that the UConn basketball program is heading in the right direction.

UConn's only loss came against nationally-ranked Creighton in overtime on Dec. 23.

"Obviously it's validation," coach Dan Hurley said on Sunday on a Zoom session from Chicago about the potential ranking. "It's important for the brand just in terms of the rebuilding and where we're at. Just based on the way we've played through the seven games minus the last 12 seconds of the Creighton game, we should be on a 12-game program winning streak. We won the last five last year and we'd have seven in a row this year.

"We feel like we have the makings of a really good team. A couple of years ago, the program was at the mid-major minus level. A couple of years later, we've got an exciting talented team that's potentially in the top 25 and we're in the Big East. Things are exciting."

Hard to believe that UConn was last ranked at the start of the 2016-17 season, checking in at No. 18.

The Huskies didn't last long in the national spotlight, falling out of the top 25 after losing at home to Wagner and Northeastern.

Since then, they've been making a long, hard climb back to respectability.

To extend its current winning streak, UConn will have to knock off DePaul for a second time this season. The Huskies rolled to an 82-61 win at Gampel Pavilion on Dec. 30.

Sophomore standout James Bouknight, who scored 20 points against DePaul in the first meeting, will likely miss his second straight game. He suffered a hyperextended elbow at Marquette on Tuesday and sat out in Saturday's 72-60 win at Butler.

The Huskies held a light workout on Sunday in Chicago.

"Everybody was shooting and doing some scout stuff," Hurley said. "We'll see how he feels (Monday) and just remain a game time (decision) until further notice."

It's been an eventful week for the Huskies.

They experienced a gratifying comeback win at Marquette.

They've had to make adjustments on the fly without Bouknight and welcomed back Akok Akok who made his season debut on Saturday, playing six minutes. Akok worked hard since last February to make a comeback from a ruptured Achilles tendon.

And then on Sunday, the UConn athletic department and community lost a family member and legend in Dee Rowe, a former men's basketball coach. Rowe passed away at the age of 91.

"It's been emotional," Hurley said. "The Marquette game was an emotional win and losing James and getting Akok back and winning (Saturday). Then obviously the news of coach Rowe today.

"And then just the one day turnaround (between games). We've got to get that level of passion and energy firing because that's the type of team that we are. We've got to play with that pop. I'll have these guys ready by (Monday) night."

UConn has relied on its depth and senior Tyler Polley to carry the team in Bouknight's absence. In the last two games, Polley is averaging 21 points and is part of a productive bench that's outscored opponents, 63-13. Junior Brendan Adams played well against Butler filling in for Bouknight.

DePaul (1-3, 0-3) is still feeling the effects of a late start to the season due to COVID-19 related postponements and cancellations. The Blue Demons have played the fewest games in the Big East. They're coached by former UConn assistant Dave Leitao.

The Blue Demons have played only one game since last facing the Huskies, losing to Seton Hall, 76-68, Saturday.

"Dave's been in a brutal position with the COVID stops and starts and having only played four games," Hurley said. "It was weird getting ready for their game because there was only one game to watch and then our game.

"So the prep is going to be relatively easy for both of us because we just played."

g.keefe@theday.com

UConn at DePaul

Location: Wintrust Arena, Chicago

Tip-off: 6 p.m. (FS1)

Records: UConn 6-1, 3-1, DePaul 1-3, 0-3

Last game: UConn won at Butler, 72-60, Saturday; DePaul lost to Seton Hall, 76-68, Saturday

Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 r-jr. guard R.J. Cole (9.3 pts, 3.7 assists), 6-4 jr. guard Brendan Adams (5.7 pts), 6-6 jr. guard Tyrese Martin (9.3 pts, 8.5 rebs), 6-9 sr. forward Isaiah Whaley (9.3 pts, 6.4 rebs, 2.4 blks), 6-9 fr. forward Adama Sanogo (4.6 pts, 3.7 rebs)

DePaul, 5-11 sr. guard Charlie Moore (14 pts, 5.3 assists), 6-3 sr. guard Ray Salnave (1.5 pts), 6-4 jr. guard Javon Liberty-Freeman (15.8 pts, 5.3 rebs), 6-7 so. forward Romeo Weeks (11.7 pts, 5.3 rebs), 6-11 so. center Nick Ongenda (9.5 pts, 5 rebs)

Noteworthy: Third straight road game for the Huskies. ... With a victory, UConn can equal last season's road win total of three and extend its overall winning streak to season-high four straight. ... Series: UConn leads, 11-1, winning last meeting, 82-61, on Dec. 30 in Storrs. Martin led the way 22 pts, 11 rebs. Huskies never trailed. ... DePaul's Dave Leitao, a former UConn assistant, is 0-4 vs. the Huskies as a head coach. ... Blue Demons only winless team in Big East play. Losses to Providence, UConn and Seton Hall. ... Top reserve: 6-2 fr. guard Kobe Elvis (8.8 pts). ... DePaul last in both scoring defense in Big East overall (81.2) and rebounding margin (minus 2.5), UConn first in both categories at 63 pts and plus 8.0. ... .. Injury update: James Bouknight (hyperextended elbow) doubtful, Andre Jackson (wrist) out. ... UConn's bench out-scored opponents, 63-16, in the last two games. ... Hot: Polley averaging 21 points in last two games, sinking 10 of 16 3-pt attempts. Cold: So. reserve Jalen Gaffney shooting 30.7 percent from field. ... Martin top offensive rebounder in Big East overall at 3.7 per game. ... UConn 25 for 54 (46 percent) from 3-point range in last three games. ... Up next: UConn hosts St. John's Jan. 18.

— Gavin Keefe

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