Men’s Basketball: Huskies suit up for last XL Center matchup against Blue Demons 

With a busy week behind them, the Huskies ramp up for their last two games of yet another Big East season. Above is a photo from 2-22-2023, MBB v. Providence at Gampel. Photo by Izzi Barton/The Daily Campus.

After a hectic couple of days that included a trip to New York and a few inches of snow in Connecticut, the UConn men’s basketball team now has just two games left in another season of great Big East play.

The team has seen incredible storylines, from the rise of Alex Karaban to the $2 beer game against Providence. With one last opportunity in Hartford to send fans home happy, they’ll step foot once again onto the XL Center hardwood against the DePaul Blue Demons. 

When the Huskies last faced off against their foes from the “Windy City,” they were under much different circumstances. They’d just dropped a tough home matchup to Xavier in what was a gritty fight in the second half of a hard-fought Gampel showdown. Unfortunately for UConn, all the momentum that they’d built from a demoralizing 86-56 win over Butler in the game before fell down the drain after their incredible second half push was short lived. 

But, when UConn played DePaul at Wintrust Arena in the cold city of Chicago, they looked impressive and were able to get back in the win column. Fast forward to Feb. 28, UConn sits at No. 14 and has the opportunity to obtain a seed as high as No. 3 in the upcoming Big East Tournament. 

Perhaps nobody looked tougher in that win than Jordan Hawkins, who dropped 26 points. It was another high-scoring total for Hawkins in a season where he’s established himself as a clear NBA prospect with an elite jumpshot and polished offensive game. In what will most likely be Hawkins’ final opportunity to suit up at the XL Center in front of UConn fans, he’ll have the opportunity to put on another show. 

The Men’s Basketball Team is set to play on Wednesday March 1st, 2023 at the Hartford XL Center. Photo by Izzi Barton/The Daily Campus.

Unlike Hawkins, who has been firing on all cylinders from the offensive end, DePaul is in a bit of a cold spell. With just three total Big East wins and a 10-game losing streak, the odds are not on their side for this one, especially if the Huskies are looking to give a performance resembling the teams’ previous matchup in Chicago. DePaul’s lone bright spots lie in a six point loss to No. 6 Marquette and a one point loss to Butler. 

For a performance similar to that late January win, UConn needs to once again step up on the defensive end. In that game, Connecticut held guard Umoja Gibson, DePaul’s top scorer, to just eight points and 3-10 shooting from the field. Since the Blue Demons will have a surging Nick Ongenda back in the lineup along with Juwan Johnson, the Huskies will need that same defensive intensity for this game. Even with improved offensive play in the second half, DePaul saw that it wasn’t enough to counteract the Huskies’  dominant first half thanks to Hawkins, Adama Sanogo and Tristen Newton. 

Newton in particular could once again be in line for a big night. He’s averaging 9.2 points, 6.5 assists and 5.8 rebounds over a six-game span, which has made an all-around impact. If you also consider what the transfer guard has been able to do from the defensive end with two steals in his past two Big East battles, that certainly bodes well for a team that’s looking to get hot before they once again see the bright lights of New York City. 

As the Huskies get ready for their last XL Center matchup of the season on a chilly Wednesday night, they’ll also look ahead March, where games truly elevate to the next level. 

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