Last Sunday, the UConn men’s basketball team got a shot against one of the biggest names in college basketball in the Arizona Wildcats. They let that one slip away. But on Saturday, the Huskies take on a name with even stronger weight in No. 11 Florida State, with a second chance to prove they can compete with the strongest teams in the country.
“Florida State, Arizona, Syracuse, these are the games that you can’t wait to get to the arena just because of the opportunity for us,” head coach Dan Hurley said after Wednesday’s victory over Lafayette. “It’s such a great opportunity for us, just try to put ourselves in a position like the Syracuse game to win it.”
UConn (7-2) is fresh off a blowout 90-63 win over Lafayette on Tuesday. The Huskies spread it around as usual with five players in double digits, led by Jalen Adams’ 21 on 9-of-15 shooting. Alterique Gilbert was in the middle of everything, racking up 11 assists against zero turnovers.
But that was against a 2-6 Lafayette team at the XL Center, where the Huskies have looked increasingly at home. On Saturday, they’ll travel to the unfamiliar Prudential Center in Newark, and will have to contend with a significantly stronger opponent.
“Incredible challenge on Saturday, because we’re playing against one of the most physical, athletic teams in the country,” Hurley said. “I don’t think we’ve seen anyone that looks like these men that we’re gonna play.”
Hurley placed special emphasis on the word ‘men’ in that sentence, and used it again multiple times after practice on Thursday. He expects Saturday to be an all-out “war,” and it’s not difficult to see why.
Florida State comes in at 7-1 on the season, with the lone loss to No. 21 Villanova in the championship of their in-season tournament. The Seminoles have won three games by more than 20 points, but they’ve also been in some nail-biters, having squeaked out two wins by three points or less.
If on paper Florida State doesn’t blow you away, it’s because their physicality is what wins them games. Four different players average double-digit scoring figures, with a highest of 11.1 per game. That’s senior 6’7 guard Terance Mann, who will certainly be a handful on Saturday. Mann leads the team in rebounds at 7.3 per game. The Huskies have some strong rebounding guards, and that will be tested on Saturday.
UConn does catch a major break, as the Seminoles will likely be without senior forward Phil Cofer, their lead scorer from a year ago. Cofer has missed all season with a right foot injury, and though he has participated in light practice this week and will be in uniform on Saturday, it’s highly unlikely he’ll see any minutes.
On the UConn side of things, Adams enters as the team’s leading scorer at 19 points a game. More impressively, he’s done that shooting 57 percent from the floor, easily a career-high. With a stronger all-around roster behind him, Adams has settled into a comfortable role. He knows how important Saturday’s game is for the team.
“We have the confidence that we can compete with anyone in the country, we just have to come out and execute on those nights,” Adams said. “I think in the Arizona game, we didn’t come out and execute on the defensive end. We just have to be cautious of that in the Florida State game, and have the appropriate respect for our opponent.”
The game is part of the Never Forget Tribute Classic, which benefits the children of those lost in the 9/11 attacks.
A win over a team just outside of the Top 10 would do more than just wonders for the Huskies’ confidence. It would also make some valid claims that UConn belongs in the rankings themselves.
“It’s nothing but opportunity for us, and it’s exciting as heck,” Hurley said.
Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Prudential Center.