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UConn men host dangerous Marquette on Saturday

Coach Dan Hurley didn't crank up the intensity in practice this week to prepare for the crucial home stretch.

It's just about impossible for the intensity level to go any higher than it typically is during the season.

"We practice hard," Hurley said on Friday. "We're pretty consistent with the way we practice. You're on the guys a little bit more about attention to detail because you know what's at stake. Everybody knows what's at stake here. It's not like years ago. You can't insulate anyone from the fact that this time of year you've got to turn it up and you've got to perform."

UConn can make a statement to the NCAA tournament selection committee by turning in some impressive performances in the final three regular season games, starting Saturday against Marquette at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. The Big East game starts at 2:30 p.m.

The Huskies (11-6, 8-6) are riding some momentum from winning three of their last four games. The Golden Eagles (11-12, 6-10) are soaring as well, winning two straight.

Marquette is a dangerous team despite its record and residing in ninth place in the Big East.

Just ask North Carolina, which hosted Marquette in a non-conference game on Wednesday and suffered an 83-70 defeat. Forward Dawson Garcia, the leading candidate for Big East freshman of the year, had 24 points and 11 rebounds.

"This is a heck of a league when you look at what Marquette did the other night," Hurley said. "They didn't just go on the road and steal one. From tip to finish, they dominated the game against one of the better teams in the ACC that was playing for their NCAA life."

Marquette will have some added motivation on Saturday, looking to avenge a 65-54 loss to UConn on Jan. 5 in Milwaukee. The Huskies rallied from an 18-point deficit in a game that saw sophomore James Bouknight suffer an elbow injury that resulted in the star guard missing eight games.

Tyler Polley helped fuel the rousing rally, scoring a season-high 23 points, and fellow senior Isaiah Whaley added 15 points and 13 rebounds. The Huskies controlled the boards and turned up the defense in the second half, limiting the Golden Eagles to just eight field goals.

The Golden Eagles are better than their record indicates, according to Hurley.

"We expect to see the team that was up 18 on us and pounded North Carolina...," Hurley said. "It's important for us to start well. Marquette is coming in with so much confidence and they're playing so loose, too. We need to attack the game because we're trying to make the season. We're not defending our season tomorrow, we're trying to create the season that we want going into March. We can't allow ourselves to be tight and they're loose because they're not in the at-large (bid) position."

Marquette can expect to see the full James Bouknight experience on Saturday. Bouknight had a season-low six points in the first meeting during which he basically served as a decoy after being injured in the first half.

Since returning to the lineup, Bouknight has quickly returned to lethal form, averaging 19.7 points and 8.0 rebounds in three games. While he's been productive offensively, he still needs time to fully get back into the flow, according to Hurley.

"It's going to take him three, four, five games to get that real rhythm back that he had like when we played Creighton at home and DePaul at home," said Hurley, referring to Big East battles in late December when Bouknight scored 60 points in two games. "He was in a tremendous rhythm by that point. I think he's getting closer."

The Huskies are still adjusting to having Bouknight back.

R.J. Cole, Bouknight's backcourt partner, is starting to figure out his role. He had a brilliant game in Tuesday's win at Georgetown, finishing with 17 points, seven assists, six steals and five rebounds.

More work remains for the Huskies to completely jell.

"That's still I hate to say a work in progress because we're in such a critical part of the season," Hurley said. "These guys have got to develop this rhythm and feel how to play off each other quickly because we're running out of time here and running out of games, especially because these games are so important."

g.keefe@theday.com

Marquette at UConn

Location: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs

Tip-off: 2:30 p.m. (Ch. 61)

Records: UConn 11-6, 8-6; Marquette 11-12, 6-10

Last game: UConn won at Georgetown, 70-57, Tuesday; Marquette won at North Carolina, 83-70, Wednesday

Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 r-jr. guard R.J. Cole (12.2 pts, 4.3 assists), 6-5 so. guard James Bouknight (20 pts, 5.1 rebs), 6-6 jr. guard Tyrese Martin (12.5 pts, 7.4 rebs), 6-, 6-9 sr. forward Isaiah Whaley (8.0 pts, 6.4 rebs, 2.9 blks), 6-9 fr. forward Adama Sanogo (6.1 pts, 4.2 rebs)

Marquette, 6-3 r-jr guard Greg Elliott (5.8 pts), 6-2 so. guard D.J. Carton (12.8 pts, 3.4 assists, 3.7 rebs), 6-7 sr. forward Jamal Cain (9.8 pts, 6. rebs), 6-9 sr. forward Theo John (8.7 pts, 5.7 rebs), 6-11 fr. forward Dawson Garcia (13.1 pts, 6.7 rebs)

Noteworthy: UConn won three of four, Marquette won two straight. ... Series: UConn trails, 6-4, rallying from an 18-point to deficit to win the last meeting, 65-54, on Jan. 5 at Marquette. ... Garcia, the favorite to win the Big East freshman of the year, is the top scoring and rebounding freshman in the Big East. ... Huskies in fourth place, Golden Eagles in ninth. ... Marquette third in Big East overall in FG percentage defense at 41.1. ... Top reserve: 6-4 r-sr. guard Koby McEwen (11.2 pts, 3.7 rebs). ... UConn 5-3 at home, Marquette 5-5 on the road. ... Hot: Cole averaging 15.6 points, 5.4 assists in the last five games. Cold: UConn 9 for 38 from 3-pt range in last two games. ... As of Friday, Huskies 32nd in Pomeroy Ratings, 43rd in NCAA NET rankings. ...  UConn 1st in Big East overall in scoring defense (64.8 pts per game), blocks per game (5.5), offensive rebounds per game (13.3). ...  Bouknight with double digits rebounds in two straight games for the first time in his career. ... Huskies closing in on securing a first round bye in the Big East tournament that goes to the top five regular season finishers. ... Up next: UConn plays at Seton Hall at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

— Gavin Keefe

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