Men’s Basketball: No. 18 Huskies hope to extend toughness streak at MSG 

Gampel Pavilion experiences a whiteout as Men’s Basketball levels Providence College 87-69 in Gampel Pavillion on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. Photo by Izzi Barton/The Daily Campus

Earlier in the season, UConn men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley raised some concerns about the toughness of his team. After a tough, nine-point win in a rock fight against Seton Hall, Hurley was asked if he was less concerned about the toughness factor. 

“Not after one [game]. We have to do it two more [times], three in a row,” said Hurley. “Providence is one of the most physical teams in the country. They put enormous pressure on you with [Bryce] Hopkins and their centers… we’ve got to prove ourselves more there.” 

Fast forward to Wednesday night, when the Huskies hosted the Friars in a top 20 showdown. Thanks to one of their best halves of play all season (and a well-timed $2 beer night for fans), Connecticut cruised to a 87-69 win over Providence, outrebounding a top board-grabbing squad in the conference 40-20. Star transfer Hopkins had zero rebounds in a whopping 37 minutes played. 

But the Huskies are not done yet. 

The key word for this squad has been consistency, something not easy to come by in a grueling conference like the Big East. But suddenly, after winning five of their last six, UConn has a chance to extend their toughness streak to three games and exorcise their demons against the St. John’s Red Storm on Saturday. 

Many fans likely recall the last time these two teams squared off as the Huskies’ worst loss of the season, a double-digit blowout – at the XL Center, no less. Throughout the year, Hurley has even made reference to it, still confused about his program’s result that day. Six different St. John’s players reached double-digit scoring, making it hard to contain just one star player on the court. A 31-point performance from star guard Jordan Hawkins wasn’t enough to topple the Red Storm, who shot an incredible 52% from the field and seemingly countered every punch that UConn threw.  

Despite grabbing more rebounds than St. John’s in that contest, Connecticut was sloppy with the ball, allowing 21 turnovers and 22 points off turnovers. 

Their next game is at Madison Square Garden in Queens, New York, versus St. John’s University on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. Photo by Izzi Barton/The Daily Campus

Now, the tide has turned. The Huskies look like they are absolutely rolling right now, getting consistent offensive production from All-Big East Team candidates Hawkins and Adama Sanogo. Transfer guard Tristen Newton is picking up steam at the right time, and captain Andre Jackson is producing as one of the top glue guys in the nation. Freshmen Alex Karaban and Donovan Clingan have been stellar in their respective roles, with the former dropping 16 points on Wednesday night. The contributions of the entire team are very reminiscent of their early season undefeated stretch, carrying them all the way to No. 2 in the country at the time. 

Vibes are high in Storrs, but can they keep it that way? With a 3-5 conference road record, it’s been tough for the Huskies in hostile environments this year. Thankfully for UConn, St. John’s plays at Madison Square Garden, sometimes noted as a third home for Connecticut due to the proximity of the state to New York City. Expect a large turnout of Husky fans, despite it being a road contest. 

At the end of the day, if Connecticut can keep up this toughness streak, they can compete toe-to-toe with anyone in the conference, or even the nation. Hurley has said that the team’s struggles mid-season will prepare them for the rest of the year, and it looks like it has.  

Time to prove it. 

Tip-off is set for 12 p.m. at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The game will be broadcast live on CBS. 

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