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UConn men, up to No. 20 in AP poll, host struggling Georgetown

When UConn sticks to its identity, the Huskies are difficult to beat.

Coach Dan Hurley is driving that point home as the season nears February and the Big East regular-season title chase remains wide open.

During a Zoom session on Monday, Hurley spoke about the state of the Huskies, who host Georgetown on Tuesday (8:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network) in a Big East game at Gampel Pavilion.

"We have a lot of confidence in who we are, when we're healthy and we've got close to our full team," Hurley said. "Obviously, we've got great potential. The mentality right now for us is we've got to be really glued to our identity, or else we're not quite that team.

"We've got to play that elite level defense. We've got to clean up the defensive rebounding, in particular. It's really hurt us a lot this year, quietly. We do such a great job on the offensive glass, defensive rebounding has really been our Achilles' heel this year.

"We know we can be a top team and we can compete for a championship in this league. But, if we stray from our identity a little bit, we become vulnerable."

UConn has looked anything but vulnerable recently, winning four of five including the last two by double figures over Butler. The Huskies (13-4, 4-2) rose from 25th to 20th in Monday's Associated Press Top 25 poll and sit 15th in the latest NCAA NET rankings.

Contributions have come from numerous players, a sign of UConn's quality depth. Four players — Tyrese Martin, R.J. Cole, Adama Sanogo and Tyler Polley — each have scored at least 20 points in a game this season. Martin had a career-high 27 points in Thursday's win at Butler.

Cole (15.7), Sanogo (15.6) and Martin (14.2) are the team's leading scorers.

"The majority of the time for us, we're a very hard team to beat because of our depth," Hurley said. "That doesn't mean we're going to win every game. We're either going to win or lose by a little because we have more chances that a couple guys can play well offensively and really give you double figures.

"If you've got that consistent defense and you rebound the ball and you play harder than the opponent, don't turn the ball over and you have a couple guys step up on a given night, that's a formula that can win a lot of games. ... I don't know if there's another team in the country that has three guys getting 14 a game or higher."

Since 1960, only three UConn teams have featured three players that have averaged 14 points or more in a season.

The 2017-18 trio of Jalen Adams (18.5), Christian Vital (14.6) and Terry Larrier (14.0) accomplished the feat as well as the 2009-10 group of Jerome Dyson (17.2), Kemba Walker (14.6) and Stanley Robinson (14.5), and Tony Hanson (19.1), Al Weston (14.9) and Joey Whelton (14.6) in 1975-76.

Of course, that doesn't guarantee success. Only the 1975-76 Huskies qualified for the NCAA tournament.

RIght now, UConn's focus is on beating Georgetown (6-10, 0-5), which is mired in a six-game losing streak.

That's a significant drop-off from last season for the Hoyas, who stunned the Big East by winning the league tournament title and advancing to the NCAA tournament.

Georgetown has a balanced attack with five players averaging in double figures, but is a disaster on the defensive end, ranking last in the Big East in scoring defense (76.4) and field goal percentage defense at 45.0. The Hoyas are a good 3-point shooting team, converting a league-best 37.8 percent.

The Huskies have won three of the last four meetings in the series.

It's a game that UConn, if it is a serious Big East title contender, should win.

Hurley is advising his Huskies not to overlook the Hoyas.

"It is a concern," Hurley said. "You don't want to be a fat rat, as (associate head coach) Kimani (Young) likes to say, and think you can just show up. The point that I made to the guys is, first of all, Georgetown and UConn mean something. It means a lot in college basketball. ... We've got to show up when those two brands get together, no matter what the scenario is with the records.

"For us, if we get away from our identity, we become a very ordinary, a very vulnerable team."

g.keefe@theday.com

No. 20 UCONN vs. GEORGETOWN

Location: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs

Tip: 8:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Records: UConn 13-4, 4-2 Big East; Georgetown 6-10, 0-5

Last game: UConn won at Butler, 75-56, Thursday; Georgetown lost to Villanova, 85-74, Saturday

Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 grad. guard R.J. Cole (15.7 pts, 4.6 assists), 6-6 so. Andre Jackson (7.8 pts, 7.8 rebs), 6-6 sr. guard Tyrese Martin (14.2 pts, 6.6 rebs), 6-9 grad. forward Isaiah Whaley (6.9 pts, 4.9 rebs, 2.2 blks), 6-9 so. forward Adama Sanogo (15.6 pts, 8.5 rebs, 2.4 blks)

Georgetown, 6-0 so. guard Dante Harris (12.9 pts, 4.6 assists), 6-5 grad guard Donald Carey (13.3 pts, 5.2 rebs), 6-5 fr. guard Mohammed Aminu (13.6 pts, 8.2 rebs), 6-6 so. forward Collin Holloway (10.1 pts), 7-0 jr. center Timothy Ighoefe (3.1 pts, 7.3 rebs)

Noteworthy: UConn off to its best overall start since 2013-14 season. ... Huskies won four of the last five games. Georgetown lost six straight. ... Series: UConn trails, 36-32, winning three of the last four including sweeping last season's meeting, 70-57 on the road and 98-82 at home. ... Aminu a Big East freshman player of the year contender. ... Top reserve: 6-7 grad swingman Kaiden Rice (13.3 pts, 3.1 rebs). ... UConn ranks first in the league in FG defense (38.6), rebounding offense (42.2), rebounding margin (plus 8), offensive rebounds(14.32) and blocks per game (7.2). ... Hot: Huskies held each of the last three foes to under 39 percent from the field. Cold: Reserve Jalen Gaffney averaged 2.3 points in the last six games. ... Martin was named to the Big East weekly honor roll. ... Huskies 9-0 when Whaley, Martin, Sanogo, Jackson and Cole in the starting lineup. ... Cole coming off a season-low tying four-point effort vs. Butler. ... Sanogo has more than doubled his scoring from last season, from 7.3 to 15.6 per game. ... Huskies are 8-1 at home, Hoyas 0-3 on the road. ... Up next: UConn visits DePaul Saturday night in Chicago.

— Gavin Keefe

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