Huskies take on a dangerous Northwestern team on Sunday night

Mar. 23—NEW YORK — Preparing for UConn is as tough as trying to pass a driver's test wearing a blindfold.

Opponents never see what's coming.

Non-conference teams have experienced issues when facing the Huskies, who are 31-1 in the last two seasons against teams outside of the Big East.

Top-seeded UConn (32-3) will try to extend its successful run against non-conference foes on Sunday in NCAA tournament East Region second round action, taking on ninth-seeded Northwestern (22-11) on Sunday. Game time is 7:45 p.m. at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

"They are the best team in the country," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. "They have earned that. Do they have more talent than us top to bottom? Probably so. But I think what's beautiful about the NCAA tournament is it's one game. If we had to play them in a best-of-seven, we're not going to win. That's just the reality.

"They're the better team across the board."

The better team doesn't always win in the NCAA tournament.

Northwestern is certainly capable of handing UConn its second non-conference loss in two seasons, the lone defeat coming at Kansas on Dec. 1.

The Wildcats are battle-tested from playing in the rugged and deep Big Ten.

They took Purdue, another No. 1 seed in the field, to overtime twice during the regular season, winning 92-88 on Dec. 1 and losing 105-96 on Jan. 31.

They have a star player in guard Boo Buie, an All-Big Ten first team pick and program's all-time leading scorer. They're one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the country. And they regularly find a way to win close games, including beating Florida Atlantic, 77-65, in overtime in first round action on Friday.

"They are as dangerous an opponent you can face at this point in the tournament because they have shown the ability to beat high-end teams," UConn coach Dan Hurley said.

The Huskies are a confident bunch.

They've won seven straight NCAA tournament games by double digits, including opening March Madness by beating Stetson, 91-52, on Friday.

With a tournament game under their belt, they're ready to make a deep run.

"Once you get out of the first round, everything else seems natural," redshirt sophomore Alex Karaban said. "Now you're playing a really good team in the second round and moving forward. I think the pressure is gone from what this whole tournament presents now."

Working in UConn's favor is Northwestern will be playing against the Huskies for the first time.

UConn's relentless, unselfish brand of basketball is difficult to prepare for, especially in a short 48 hours.

"Teams really haven't really played against a style like us...," Karaban said. "The (other) coaches are just unfamiliar with how we play. Big East teams are familiar with what we like to do. When we get out to the non-conference, it's tough. It's especially tough to prep for us on one day only.

"... It's a huge advantage for us."

In addition, Hurley regularly points to detailed scouting reports put together by assistant coach Luke Murray and associate head coach Kimani Young as significant factors in the team's success.

"We're just locked in," veteran guard Hassan Diarra said. "The coaches are doing a good job scouting these teams and we're going out there and we're executing. I think we've done an amazing job of that."

The Huskies appear poised to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the second straight season.

Northwestern stays in UConn's way.

If the Huskies play up to their championship level standard, they'll continue to be tough to beat.

"The biggest thing that makes you bulletproof in tournaments is if you play elite defense, if you play elite offense, if you're a really, really strong rebounding team, if you play really, really hard, if you share the basketball, if you're not reliant on one or two players to carry you, if you've got Young and Murray that prepare this team for opponents as good as most head coaches prepare their team for opponents, it puts you in a good position where you're not too vulnerable," Hurley said.


Game: NCAA tournament second round

Location: Barclays Center, Brooklyn

Tip time: 7:45 p.m. (truTV)

Records: Top-seeded UConn (32-3), No. 9 Northwestern (22-11)

Series: First meeting

Probable starters: UConn, 6-5 graduate guard Tristen Newton (15.1 pts, 6.9 rebs, 6.1 assists), 6-4 graduate guard Cam Spencer (14.5 pts, 4.5 rebs), 6-6 fr. guard Stephon Castle (10.9 pts, 4.5 rebs), 6-8 r-so. forward Alex Karaban (13.9 pts, 4.9 rebs), 7-2 so. center Donovan Clingan (12.7 pts, 7.2 rebs, 2.2 blks)

Northwestern, 6-2 grad guard Boo Buie (19.3 pts, 3.4 rebs), 6-6 jr. guard Brooks Barnhizer (14.5 pts, 7.5 rebs), 6-4 grad guard Ryan Langborg (12.7 pts, 3.1 rebs), 6-7 so. forward Nick Martinelli (8.8 pts, 4.2 rebs), 6-10 so. forward Luke Hunger (3.7 pts, 1.9)

Noteworthy: UConn has won seven straight NCAA tourney games by double digits, two shy of tying the record held by Michigan State (2000-2001). Huskies are 15-4 in 2nd round games since 1990 and 66-32 all-time in NCAA tourney play. ... Northwestern is 3-2 in NCAA tournament play, making its fourth appearance. ... Wildcats finished third in the Big Ten, tying the program record for most league wins with 12. ... Common foes: Indiana (UConn won at 77-57 on Dec. 19, Northwestern won on the road 76-72 on Feb. 18), DePaul (UConn won, 85-56 and 101-65, Northwestern won 56-46). ... Top reserve: 6-9 grad forward Blake Preston (2 pts, 2.1 rebs) ... Barnhizer earned All-Big Ten 3rd team and all-defensive team honors. ... Hot: UConn is 38-3 in its last 41 non-conference games. Cold: Opponents are shooting 39.8% percent from the field. ...Newton's career-best 213 assists is the most for a Husky since Marcus Williams had 243 in 2004-05. ... Up next: Sunday's winner advances to the East region semifinals on Thursday in Boston to face either Yale or San Diego State.