For the No. 18 UConn men’s basketball team, it’s supposed to be a night of celebration. The Huskies will applaud their seniors, a group consisting of Tristen Newton, Joey Calcaterra, Richie Springs, Nahiem Alleyne and student manager Nick DeMarco. At a 20-7 record, each upperclassmen has been a part of something special. They went undefeated in non-conference competition, including wins against top-ranked programs like Alabama. Players like Newton have established themselves in the UConn history books with historic performances that included a triple-double against Marquette for his second of the season. Calcaterra and Alleyne have shown their value off the bench. This group certainly is deserving of their flowers.
But their opponent, the Providence Friars, are determined to put a damper on that night.
The storybook of battles between these two programs now has a new page. In their 2023 season rematch at Gampel Pavilion, UConn will have a chip on their shoulder after losing a tough one away at Amica Mutual Pavillion. That game saw the Huskies put on a poor offensive display, including a 22.7% team 3-point shooting percentage. To make matters worse, both UConn and Providence were neck and neck at the half with the Friars holding just a three point lead. Unfortunately for UConn, they couldn’t execute in the second half, as Providence shot 44% from the 3-point line and the Friars were able to pick up a 12-point victory.
Wednesday is the perfect opportunity for the Huskies to respond in a big way, and both fanbases want this one badly. It’s No. 18 vs. No. 20. This game sold out quickly for students and fans alike, especially with it being the last game of the season at Gampel Pavilion as thousands of students acted quickly to secure a spot in their section. Both fan bases have gone back and forth on social media as they advocate for their team. So it’s pretty obvious that more than a few fans will line up very early to ensure a prime location to cheer on the Huskies even with the Connecticut cold making such a feat difficult.
The Friars will ride into this game off the momentum of their two previous wins which included a double-overtime victory over the Creighton Bluejays, showing the true grit of this Providence squad. Their last game, a 13-point win over Villanova, saw Ed Croswell score his 1,000th career bucket as the team pulled off another impressive win. With their spirits high, they’ll now have to travel away from the AMP to a tough road venue.
In both of Providence’s wins, transfer Bryce Hopkins was fantastic and throughout this season, he’s been one of the best scorers in the Big East period. His scoring average of 16.9 points per game is tied with UConn big man Adama Sanogo for first in the entire conference. As one of the best players in the Big East this season, he’ll be a tough player to contain for UConn’s defense.
For the Friars, their team offensive efficiency comes in at No. 20 in college basketball. They’re a tough cover for any team in the Big East and that goes for UConn as well, especially with what they showed in the first contest between these teams.
But Providence will also have a tough assignment with guard Jordan Hawkins, who has dropped 17.2 points over his last 10 games. While Hawkins didn’t shoot the best against Seton Hall in the team’s win on Saturday, he’ll have to be playing his best on Wednesday for this team to come out with a win, especially with the Friars bringing their own explosive offense to Storrs.
You also can’t forget about Sanogo, who’s coming off a performance against Creighton that saw him pour in 17 points and 10 rebounds despite the loss to the Bluejays in Omaha. While the UConn big man didn’t have his best performance in the last outing against Providence, the home crowd should certainly be a big help for him.
This should also be an interesting game for Andre Jackson, a player who’s coming off a great performance against Seton Hall where he scored a career-high 15 points. Jackson will certainly have to be the lockdown defender that coach Dan Hurley needs him to be and a defensive assignment against Hopkins should be one of the most interesting things to watch on Wednesday.
UConn can’t stray away from the defensive identity that Hurley has preached all season when discussing his team. In the Big East, defense wins basketball games and that’s more important in this matchup than ever. If UConn puts in the effort on defense, especially in the paint against a program that loves to get their points from the stripe, they’ll be putting themselves in the best possible position for a huge win.
When the clock strikes 6:30 p.m. for tipoff, it’s going to be one of the top matchups of the Big East season with competitive basketball throughout all 40 minutes of play.