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UConn men look to continue winning ways

Every serious Big East regular season title contender checks off several key boxes.

It beats teams it is supposed to beat.

It defends homecourt.

And it has a winning road record.

No. 20 UConn (14-4, 5-2) is building a resume worthy of title contender status.

The Huskies have yet to suffer a bad loss in Big East play, falling at home to Providence while without Adama Sanogo and dropping an overtime decision at Seton Hall coming off a lengthy COVID pause.

They improved to 10-1 at home with a 96-73 win over Georgetown on Wednesday.

And they can go over .500 in road action with a win at DePaul (10-9, 1-8) Saturday at 6:30 p.m,at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. The Huskies stand at 2-2 on the road.

Only once in the program's 10 Big East regular title seasons has UConn finished first without posting a winning road record. The Huskies went 5-6 in 2002-03.

They carry a four-game winning streak into Saturday's action and reside in third place in the league.

"We've just got to continue to play to our identity and we're going to have a great season," coach Dan Hurley said after beating Georgetown Tuesday.

While Hurley pointed to some defensive things that need cleaning up, his team is playing at a high level offensively.

In the last three games, all double digit wins, UConn has had seven different players score in double figures while averaging 81.3 points per game as a team. The Huskies shot 50 percent vs. the Hoyas and went 10 for 24 from beyond the arc.

"We're in a good place right now," Hurley said. "The guys understand the actions that we're trying to run. We can hit people with post-ups to a guy that's really, really hard to stop in Adama (Sanogo), multiple guys are doing things off the dribble, multiple guys feel good about their 3-point shooting. We can post a multitude of players.

"We have a lot of different ways we can come at you. Having Adama in there just opens everything up for everybody."

UConn takes on a DePaul team that's dropped eight of its last nine games. The Blue Demons averaged just 45 points in the last two outings without leading scorer Javon Freeman-Liberty (groin injury) in the lineup. They've really missed his 21.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

There's a chance that Freeman-Liberty could return for Saturday's game.

DePaul has played a tougher Big East schedule than UConn so far, facing five teams in the top six of the league standings including Villanova twice.

More challenging days are ahead for the Huskies, who still have to face Villanova, Creighton and Xavier twice each.

Next week, they open a difficult stretch in February by hosting Creighton Tuesday and visiting Villanova on Saturday, Feb. 5.

So far, the Huskies are taking care of business, and Hurley wants to make sure they continue to do that.

"I'm trying to get across to our guys, winning the games that you're supposed to win or should win at home versus a team that's struggling, that's as important to you pursuing a regular season championship as it is winning those big showdown games.

"The reason why teams are dominant in leagues is because a program like Villanova never stubs their toe in games like this. So, that's a huge part of your maturation as a program is you don't lose games that you're supposed to win, home and away. And then obviously you're going to have those bigger ones waiting."

Veteran guard Tyrese Martin knows Hurley demands more from the Huskies.

"Every day, it's something new," Martin said. "That's a great part about being around that guy. ... Playing for that guy, he just raises the bar and expects greatness, or something that was better than it was before every night out. It keeps you on your toes and makes you a better player and person."

g.keefe@theday.com

 

No. 20 UConn at DePaul

Location: Wintrust Arena, Chicago

Tip-off: 6:30 p.m. (FS1)

Records: UConn 14-4, 5-2; DePaul 10-9, 1-8

Last game: UConn beat Georgetown, 96-73, Tuesday; DePaul lost to Villanova, 67-43, Tuesday

Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 grad. guard R.J. Cole (15.6 pts, 4.8 assists), 6-6 so. Andre Jackson (7.6 pts, 7.5 rebs), 6-6 sr. guard Tyrese Martin (14.1 pts, 6.7 rebs), 6-9 grad forward Isaiah Whaley (7.4 pts, 5.1 rebs, 2.1 blks), 6-9 so. forward Adama Sanogo (15.9 pts, 8.4 rebs, 2.4 blks)

DePaul, 6-0 so. guard Jalen Terry (7.7 pts), 6-6 grad forward Javan Johnson (5.9 pts), 6-6 so. forward David Jones (14.9 pts, 7.3 rebs), 6-8 grad forward Brandon Johnson (10.5 pts, 7.1 rebs), 6-11 jr. center Nick Ongenda (8.4 pts, 4.3 rebs)

Noteworthy: Huskies won five of their last six games. Blue Demons dropped eight of nine. ... Series: UConn leads, 13-1, winning 12 straight including last meeting 94-60 in Big East tourney quarterfinals on March 11 in NYC. ... Blue Demons played without leading scorer Javon Freeman-Liberty (groin injury) the last three games. ... DePaul averaged just 45 pts in the last two games. ... Top reserve: 6-7 sr. guard Tyon Grant-Foster (9 pts, 3 rebs). ... Blue Demons 1-4 vs. ranked teams, beating Seton Hall, 96-92, on Jan. 13. ... DePaul 8-4 at home, UConn 2-2 on the road. ... Hot: Jackson 10 for 15 from 3-pt range in Big East games. Cold: Gaffney 3 for 15 from field in Big East action. ... Huskies are 4-1 since returning from their COVID pause. ... Handle with care: UConn averaged just 9.7 turnovers in the last three games. ... Reserve Jordan Hawkins has hit double figures in two of the last three games. ... Up next: UConn hosts Creighton Tuesday night in Hartford.

— Gavin Keefe

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