Coming off a memorable comeback win over Marquette on Tuesday night, the UConn men’s basketball team will be back in action against the Butler Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon.
The game will be played at the legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, which was the setting for one of the greatest sports movies ever made, “Hoosiers.” Head coach Dan Hurley, who did his pregame media availability right in Hinkle, said he got a chance to play there the one season Butler was in the Atlantic 10 with Rhode Island, and he loves it there.
“It was an awesome experience,” Hurley said. “The history, the building, obviously the movie. I just did a Gene Hackman impersonation when I walked in.”
It won’t be quite the same environment in Hinkle this year though with only 2,000 fans in the building due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Speaking of COVID-19, both UConn (5-1, 2-1 Big East) and Butler (3-5, 2-3 Big East) have had to pause this season due to a positive case in the program. Hurley said that pause, along with injuries to key players, are the reasons for Butler’s poor record and he believes the Bulldogs are a really good team.
“I think [head coach] LaVall [Jordan] has them starting to play really good basketball,” Hurley said. “But between COVID and some of the injury things to [Aaron] Thompson and others, they’ve had a lot of challenges to overcome.”
Butler’s top scorer and senior leader Aaron Thompson missed five straight games before returning last game against Georgetown, which Butler won 63-55.
“They’re a much different team with him in there,” Hurley said. “The kid’s a winner. He’s tough as nails. He’s a senior that knows how to win, and he’s obviously their leader. He’s as good a defender as I’ve seen on the perimeter this year.”
Aside from Thompson, the Bulldogs are very balanced, with five more players averaging over eight points per game, including Jair Bolden (13.5) and Chuck Harris (12.0). But the one Hurley has his eyes on the most is forward Bryce Nze, who was named to the preseason All-Big East second team.
As for the Huskies, Hurley said leading scorer James Bouknight will be a game-time decision against Butler with the hyperextended elbow he suffered against Marquette. Hurley said he’s been “really limited” in practice since Tuesday. In addition, Akok Akok could play if both Akok and the coaches feel he’s ready, but that’s definitely not a guarantee.
One player who will not be with the team on Saturday is freshman Javonte Brown, who announced Friday he will be leaving UConn and entering the transfer portal. Hurley said it took him as a surprise because he hasn’t had to deal with many players transferring that he recruited, but he said he understands.
“It happened very suddenly,” Hurley said. “That wasn’t something that we thought was pending, but I understand the culture of college basketball and what’s to come with the new transfer rules that are going to be in place.”
Butler and UConn have only met once before in their history, but the one game was a big one: the 2011 National Championship, which UConn won 53-41 to bring a third title back to Storrs. Now, the teams will meet as conference foes, and while almost nothing about either of the teams is the same as then, it’s sure to be another battle between two great basketball schools.
“We expect tomorrow to be much tougher than Tuesday and our toughest game of the year,” Hurley said.
The game will be at 4 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.