Tonight, the UConn men’s basketball team will take the floor at Gampel Pavilion for one last time this season in a battle for vital conference positioning against the University of Memphis, on a night that will honor the team’s graduating players.
The Huskies (17-11, 10-6 American) are now winners of three straight games and six of their last eight dating back to the team’s first of two wins over ECU on Feb. 4. The Huskies fell short to Memphis in their first try earlier this season, and are now facing another key battle for standing among the conference’s top tier tonight (ESPN 2, 9 p.m.).
Memphis (17-12, 9-7 American) held senior guard Ryan Boatright to just seven points on Feb. 19, his lowest scoring total since an injury against Temple on New Year’s Eve limited him to just one field goal in 17 minutes of action. The Tigers held on for the 75-72 win in that first meeting of the two teams this season, thwarting off an admirable comeback effort out of the Huskies who were at one point down by as many as 15.
The Tigers will be handicapped considerably this time around; it now appears they will be without their most dangerous weapon – sophomore Austin Nichols – for the remainder of the season.
Nichols is expected to be out with an ankle injury for tonight’s game and likely throughout the AAC tournament that begins next week. The 6-foot-8 forward, who hurt his ankle in last Saturday’s overtime loss against Tulsa, has been averaging more than six rebounds while leading the team in scoring with 13.3 points per game.
Nichols scored 16 points and recorded eight rebounds and seven blocks the first time his Tigers played UConn this season in Memphis.
The Huskies do appear to have turned a major corner on the season however, most notably on the heels of their most recent victory against the then-No. 21 SMU Mustangs. Boatright, now No. 9 on the all-time UConn scoring list, is still leading the offense with a conference-leading 17.7 points per game. Sophomore Rodney Purvis and freshman Daniel Hamilton have elevated their games to near season-bests.
Indeed, the Huskies have been pulling out wins in games that, earlier in the season, they very likely may have struggled in.
“It shows a lot of toughness,” Purvis said following the team’s win over SMU last Sunday, the team’s first win over a ranked opponent all season. “Earlier on in the year, you know, we probably would have bit the dust. I feel like we’re just getting better.”
Also boding well for the Huskies tonight is their impressive record at home this season. The team is has posted a strong 11-3 record when playing at either the XL Center in Hartford or Gampel Pavilion on campus. The team’s only two losses at Gampel came in back-to-back last second losses to No. 7 Texas and then Yale on Nov. 30 and Dec. 5, respectively.
The Huskies will also be looking to keep their recent success on Senior Nights rolling, having taken last season’s home-closer over Rutgers at Gampel.
Tonight, alongside senior captain Boatright, UConn will be honoring fellow senior guards Dan Guest and Pat Lenehan. The team will also be honoring two of its managers, Colin Oehrle and Nick Blano, in the pregame Senior Night ceremonies.
Mike Corasaniti is a senior staff writer covering UConn men's basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @MikeCorasaniti.