UConn men are back home Tuesday night
UConn's performance in the Battle 4 Atlantis apparently impressed Associated Press top 25 voters.
The Huskies jumped five spots in the latest poll on Monday, going from No. 22 to No. 17.
"That's a great thing," said coach Dan Hurley after Monday's practice at the Werth practice facility on campus. "We want to keep going."
They gained a shot of confidence from three fiercely competitive games in the Bahamas last week, beating Auburn in double overtime and Virginia Commonwealth University in overtime and dropping a tight game to Michigan State.
They learned a tremendous amount about their team.
There were moments in each game when UConn would have folded during the previous few seasons, according to veteran Isaiah Whaley.
"I learned how tough we were mentally," Whaley said. "We didn't get a good look at it playing lower level teams, but once we played the high level teams we figured out how tough we were mentally and physically. Now we know where we're at and what we have to improve on as well".
The Huskies (6-1) head back to playing weaker competition this week, starting out by hosting Maryland Eastern Shore (2-4) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the XL Center in Hartford. They'll face Grambling State in Storrs on Saturday afternoon.
They'll have an opportunity to iron out some wrinkles in their game.
Pressure defense bothered them last week, as they committed a combined 46 turnovers in two of the three games and averaged 18 overall at the Battle 4 Atlantis.
The Huskies are lacking in crafty ball-handlers.
"We've obviously got areas where we've got to get better," Hurley said. "Most importantly, take care of the ball. Two turnover games that we had out there, it makes it challenging to win. We've got to play better against pressure. Guards have got to handle the ball better. We've just got to be better organized that way.
"And we've got to play better situational basketball. That stretch of things that went on in the last couple of minutes of the Michigan State game, a lot of learning things, that cost us a chance to get three wins."
Individually, sophomore forward Adama Sanogo, who's developed into a force under the basket, has to work on passing the ball out of the low post, according to Hurley. Sanogo has struggled to recognize and react to the defense.
"He's a special guy," Hurley said. "Right now is he a great passer out of the post? No. When he came here, he wasn't the low post scorer that he is right now. So he'll continue to add and develop to his game and become a better player in every facet of his game because that's what special players do."
Sanogo is off to a career-best start, scoring in double figures in six games — one shy of last year's season total — and averaging a team-best 16.7 points. He earned Big East player of the week honors.
He's not satisfied.
"I think I need to work on my game a little bit, especially my passing," Sanogo said. "After watching the film, I saw that I was double-teamed a lot and there were some plays where I could have passed the ball but I didn't. I'm going to work on that stuff."
Maryland Eastern Shore is unlikely to pose much of a threat to UConn. The Hawks are members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which also features Coppin State, a team that UConn routed 89-54 on Nov. 13.
The Huskies are determined to keep climbing in the national polls. Their No. 17 ranking equals the program's best since the first two weeks of the 2014-15 season. They finished at 20-15 overall.
"That's what coach has been saying every day since we left the tournament, just keep moving forward," Whaley said. "That's been our thing — just keep moving forward and keep getting better. We feel like this team has a lot of potential and we feel like we're not even at our peak yet. We're still getting a lot better in certain areas."
Location: XL Center, Hartford
Tip-off: 7 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Records: UConn 6-1, Maryland Eastern Shore 2-4
Last game: UConn beat Virginia Commonwealth University, 70-63 (OT) Friday; Maryland Eastern Shore lost at Liberty, 73-61, Saturday
Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 grad. guard R.J. Cole (14.9 pts, 4 assists), 6-6 so. Andre Jackson (6.6 pts, 7.7 rebs), 6-6 sr. guard Tyrese Martin (12.9 pts, 7.7 rebs), 6-9 grad. forward Isaiah Whaley (6 pts, 5 rebs), 6-9 so. forward Adama Sanogo (16.7 pts, 6.9 rebs)
Maryland Eastern Shore, 6-3 jr. guard Kevon Voyles (6.3 pts), 6-5 jr. guard Da'Shawn Phillip (9 pts, 3.8 rebs, 3.3 assists), 6-1 jr. guard Dom London (10.3 pts, 3.7 rebs), 6-3 sr. guard Zion Styles (12.5 pts, 3 rebs), 6-5 sr. forward Nathaniel Pollard, Jr. (6.2 ps, 6.2 rebs)
Noteworthy: First of two straight non-conference home games against weaker competition.. ... Fourth straight road game for Eastern Shore. Wins over Bryn Athyn and Fordham. ... Series: UConn leads 2-0, winning the last meeting 84-50 in December 2012. ... Top reserve: 6-3 fr. guard Chase Davis (7.3 pts). ... Eastern Shore's tallest starter checks in at 6-foot-5. ... While at Howard, Cole faced Eastern Shore four times, averaging 20.5 points. ... UConn is averaging 87.6 points per game. .... Hot: Jackson with 23 rebounds in the last two games. Tied with Martin for team lead at 7.7 per game. Cold: Opponents shooting 35.6 percent from the field. ... Up next: UConn hosts Grambling State Saturday at 4 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.
— Gavin Keefe
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