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No. 25 UConn men begin home-and-home series against Butler on Tuesday

Dan Hurley took advantage of an unexpected break in the schedule over the weekend.

He celebrated his 49th birthday and watched his favorite football team, the Cincinnati Bengals, win a playoff game for the first time in 31 years.

"I was able to get a three and a half hour window for the Bengals," Hurley said during a Zoom session on Monday. "That was nice. That was an incredible victory. I know how it feels to be a fan."

Hurley, UConn's passionate and intense basketball coach, also ran some spirited practices with his now fully healthy team in preparation for this week's back-to-back Big East games against Butler (9-7, 2-3), starting Tuesday at the XL Center in Hartford (7 p.m., FS1) and then heading to Indianapolis to play Thursday night.

"It was good for us to get a couple days of practice, get a full squad on the court...," Hurley said. "Maybe 10 days ago, we had maybe six guys in practice. Over the weekend, we had 14 guys.

"They were competitive practices. We look like a hungry team that's finally healthy again and excited to attack the schedule here."

UConn (11-4, 2-2) had a short gap in the schedule because its Saturday game at Providence was called off due to COVID-issues in the PC program. It has yet to be rescheduled.

The Huskies are coming off an overtime win over St. John's on Wednesday. They re-entered the Associated Press Top 25 poll on Monday, checking in at No 25.

With league-leading Villanova already at 6-1 in the Big East and Providence at 4-1, UConn needs to make a strong move to remain in contention for the regular-season title.

The next four games — two against Butler, home vs. Georgetown (Jan. 25) and at DePaul (Jan. 29) — give the Huskies a good opportunity to bank some wins and build momentum.

Butler is in a bit of a funk, dropping three of its last four games. Those league losses came against quality competition in Seton Hall, Xavier and most recently Villanova, which rolled to an 82-42 victory on Sunday in Philadelphia.

The Bulldogs are the lowest scoring team in the league, averaging just 62.6 points while allowing only 63.6. Only guard Chuck Harris scores in double figures at 10.5 points per game.

"They have older guys that are really good players," Hurley said. "This is a hard league. It's hard to go on the road and beat anybody, especially Villanova. It's hard to win a home game against anybody, because this league is one of the top two leagues in the country this year.

"You don't get to this level unless you have a lot of pride and competitiveness. None of us like being embarrassed. We understand that they're going to come in with that type of mentality, so we've got to really come out and play our best game."

It's rare for the Huskies to play the same opponent in consecutive games. The last time that happened during the regular season was 1992 when they fell to Georgetown in Harford on Feb. 12 and then lost on the road on Feb. 19. In 1996, they faced Seton Hall on March 2 in the regular-season finale and again in the Big East tournament quarterfinals on March 7.

Hurley faced a similar situation while coaching at Wagner during rivalry week in the Northeast Conference.

"It was odd," Hurley said. "I just try not to think about it. I'm just trying to think about (Tuesday's) game and improve the things we did poorly against St. John's, like the turnovers in particular, and not a good effort on the defensive glass in the second half."

Hurley expected the Huskies to be a much better defensive rebounding team this season. Improving in that area is one focal point in the upcoming weeks.

News and notes

Sophomore Adama Sanogo was named the Big East Player of the Week for the second time this season. He's averaged 22 points, 17 rebounds and 4.5 blocks in the last two games. ... "We're a different team when he's in there at both ends of the court," Hurley said. ... Hurley and his staff spent time the weekend evaluating high school talent at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass. They also got a chance to watch future Husky Donovan Clingan and his Bristol Central team play. Clingan finished with 24 points, 16 rebounds and 10 blocks in a win over Springfield Central on Friday. "It was nice to get out there and see Donovan play," Hurley said. "It was great to see the big fella and what we've got there with him, all the abilities and skills and what he has the potential to become. That was fun to see Donovan and his team play." ... UConn is 15th in the recent NCAA NET rankings. ... Hurley said the Huskies were 29th defensively and 26th offensively in the nation as of Sunday, according to Ken Pomeroy's statistics.

g.keefe@theday.com

No. 25 UCONN vs. BUTLER

Location: XL Center, Hartford

Tip: 7 p.m. (FS1)

Records: UConn 11-4, 2-2; Butler 9-7, 2-3

Last game: UConn beat St. John's, 86-78 (OT) Wednesday; Butler lost at Villanova, 82-42, Sunday

Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 grad. guard R.J. Cole (16.4 pts, 4.9 assists), 6-6 so. Andre Jackson (7.6 pts, 7.7 rebs), 6-6 sr. guard Tyrese Martin (14 pts, 6.5 rebs), 6-9 grad. forward Isaiah Whaley (7.1 pts, 4.9 rebs, 2.3 blks), 6-9 so. forward Adama Sanogo (15.9 pts, 7.8 rebs)

Butler, 6-2 grad guard Aaron Thompson (7.2 pts, 4.1 assists), 6-3 grad guard Jair Bolden (9.6 pts), 6-4 fr. guard Jayden Taylor (9.6 pts), 6-7 grad forward Bryce Nze (8.6 pts, 5.4 rebs), 6-9 sr. forward Bryce Golden (9.8 pts, 4 rebs)

Noteworthy: Game rescheduled from Jan. 1 due to COVID issues. ... In the last six games, UConn 3-3, Butler 2-4. ... Series: UConn won all three meetings, including sweeping last season, 63-51, at home, 72-60 on the road. Martin averaged 17.5 points last season vs. Bulldogs. ... Butler's Big East wins: at Georgetown (72-58), home vs. DePaul (63-59). ... Top reserve: 6-2 so. guard Chuck Harris (10.5 pts, 3.1 rebs). ... Butler ranked 10th in the Big East in FG percentage (42.2), FG percentage defense (42.7), rebounding margin (-0.8). UConn first in blocks (7.1), rebounding margin (7.5), FG percentage defense (39.2). ... Hot: Tyler Polley has made 6 of his last 9 from three. Cold: Jordan Hawkins 6 for his last 30 from the field. ... UConn with 35 turnovers in the last two games. ... Huskies converted 47 percent or better from the field in last three games. ... Cole has drawn a team-best 14 charges. ... UConn 7-1 at home. ... Jackson scored in double figures in a career-best three straight games. ... Huskies Up next: UConn visits Butler in Indianapolis at 9 p.m. Thursday. 

— Gavin Keefe

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