Hurley, Huskies 'ready for the big ones'

Published on Tuesday, 23 November 2021 19:25

Journal Inquirer

You wanted a big game, UConn men’s basketball fans? You got it.

The Huskies, who have enjoyed four blowouts against lesser foes so far this season, have a big challenge in front of them Wednesday as the take on Auburn in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis at Paradise Island in the Bahamas.

It’s UConn’s first game away from home, its first game against a ranked team, and its first game against a frontcourt of perhaps equal stature.

Auburn’s front line features 6-foot-10 Jabari Smith, one of the nation’s top freshmen, and perhaps top players. The No. 4 recruit in the Class of 2022, Smith is on the watch list for the Wooden Award and has already made quite a splash with the Tigers.

Auburn also has 7-foot-1 center Walker Kessler in its starting lineup.

It could make for a fun matchup with the likes of UConn big men Adama Sanogo, Isaiah Whaley, and Akok Akok.

UConn coach Dan Hurley has been relatively pleased with his team’s performance thus far, but there were aspects of the Huskies’ win over Binghamton Saturday that had him concerned heading into this week’s event.

For starters, the Huskies’ rebounding ability wasn’t at its peak against the Bearcats.

“Defensive rebounds (Saturday) were an absolute adventure,” Hurley said. “And if they were an adventure (Saturday), what are they going to be like Wednesday?”

In addition, point guard R.J. Cole didn’t have his best afternoon, with just four points on 2-for-9 shooting. Cole also had three assists and two turnovers.

“R.J.’s an all-Big East level performer. We need him to be that for this team. We need him to be better than that,” Hurley said.

The UConn-Auburn game is the second half of an afternoon doubleheader, with Michigan State and Loyola-Chicago matching up in the opener. The two winners will play Thursday at noon in the semifinals, while the two losers will meet Thursday at 2:30 p.m. in the consolation round.

UConn has won its first four games by an average of 40.8 points.

Auburn (3-0) had two relatively easy games to start the season followed by a good challenge in Tampa, Florida against USF on Friday. Auburn came away with a hard-earned 58-52 victory.

UConn (4-0) moved up to No. 22 in the Associated Press’ rankings Monday.

A ho-hum win over Binghamt aside, Hurley believes the Huskies are ready for their first test.

“We’re ready for the big ones now,” Hurley said.

Posted in New Britain Herald, UConn on Tuesday, 23 November 2021 19:25. Updated: Tuesday, 23 November 2021 19:27.