A lot has happened off the court since the last time the UConn men’s basketball team played a meaningful game. Thursday night at Gampel Pavilion, the Huskies will look to put all the noise aside and focus on winning games- and no one is more determined to do just that than new head coach Dan Hurley.
“We’ll get a sellout, they’ll be enough articles, they’ll be enough excitement, new coach, new blood, a great fanbase that’s been reignited,” Hurley said. “But if we want the games to get bigger and better, we’ve got to perform at a high level and be better than we were in the exhibition.”
Last Friday’s exhibition offered the first showcase of Hurley’s new-look Huskies. UConn defeated SCSU, 96-64, and while there were certainly some bright spots, especially the play of freshman Brendan Adams, the team showed considerable room for improvement.
The Huskies’ first official opponent is mid-major Morehead State, who opened this season with a win over Kentucky Christian, but went 8-21 a year ago. However, Hurley emphasized the Eagles offer a unique challenge to his team.
“Some of the things we’ve seen from them involve a lot of our issues,” Hurley said. “3-point line defense, ball-screen defense, rebounding the ball much better and just being sharper on the offensive end.”
The Huskies grabbed just six offensive rebounds against SCSU, an injury-riddled and noticeably fatigued team throughout the second half. Poor closeouts and ball-screen defense were the main reasons Southern led for the majority of the first half. Hurley’s players appear to have gotten the message loud and clear.
“We’ve been trying to perfect the things that we’ve been trying to do, which is being great in ball screens, transition defense and offensive rebounding,” Jalen Adams said after practice Wednesday. “Coach is on us about rebounding because he knows if we get clean rebounds from the bigs or the guards, we can get a quick outlet and that’s when we get into the best of our offense.”
Freshman Brendan Adams led the team last week with 17 points on 5-8 shooting, and senior Jalen added 16 with three assists. On Thursday, Hurley called the freshman Adams one of the two best shooters on the team, if not the best.
For Morehead State, experience will be key in a sold-out Gampel Pavilion which figures to be loud Thursday night. Six of their seven top-scorers from a year ago are back, including forward Malek Green, who narrowly missed a double-double in their season opener, recording 18 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes.
Hurley refused to name a starting lineup, but said redshirt freshman Sid Wilson remains out indefinitely due to a suspension, though he has been progressing well in practice. On the other side, graduate transfer Kassoum Yakwe is set to play after missing the exhibition with a foot injury.
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Gampel, the first opening night sellout in three years for the men’s team. The hype surrounding Hurley and the Huskies is certainly there. Now they have live up to it.