No room for complacency as UConn men’s basketball quickly turns page to Providence: What to know

STORRS – The UConn men’s basketball team put together its most complete most dominant effort of the year in Sunday’s 43-point win over Xavier. The team was able to enjoy it for a few hours but almost immediately switched into preparation mode to avoid any human nature or complacency going into Wednesday’s matchup against Providence.

“We’re maniacal about our preparation,” head coach Dan Hurley said. “I look for any type of crack in human behavior, of people getting complacent, and I probably was tougher on them after that game than I would be after a loss.”

“Even though we won by 40 we still had like an hour-and-a-half film session,” Alex Karaban said. “It really did feel like a loss at the same time by the way our preparation was and just our attention to detail, so he’s really not letting us off the hook.”

The Huskies carry an eight-game winning streak into Wednesday night and have created more goals, including going undefeated at home where they’re currently 11-0 on the year. And, of course, they want to have a shot at the program’s first Big East regular-season title since the 2005-06 season.

“We’ve been on such a great run here for a while now and you don’t want to make yourself vulnerable by getting away from what we do,” Hurley said. “If we don’t stick to our script defensively, offensively, on the backboard and playing as hard as we do, this thing will start to unravel like it did last year when we got away from our script.”

Providence, coming off its own emotional win in Ed Cooley’s return with Georgetown on Saturday, has snapped out of a losing skid and won three in a row.

The Kim English-led Friars were 11-2 before they lost Bryce Hopkins, their preseason All-American and Big East first teamer, to a season-ending ACL injury against Seton Hall on Jan. 3. They lost that game and the next three before going on the road for some get-back against the Pirates.

In the six games without Hopkins, junior guard Devin Carter has placed himself firmly in potential Big East Player of the Year conversations averaging 23.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals. He had 25 points and 10 rebounds to beat Creighton and nearly carried Providence to a win at St. John’s with 31 points and 13 rebounds in the game after. On Saturday, Carter ended Cooley’s return with a windmill dunk that got him to 29 points in a game where he also had four steals and a pair of blocks.

“You lose one of the most talented players in the league, it’s a big hit. It’s an emotional hit. It’s never good, it’s never easy,” Hurley said. “They’ve done a great job of recovering and (are) coming in here with a winning streak and feeling real good. The positive side for them: Carter is one of the best guards in the country. He’s an NBA player, he’s a two-way player, he’s a Bruce Brown type of player. He’s fun to watch play except when you’re about to play him.”

Behind Carter, who’s averaging 18.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game on the year, Providence has a top 10 defense in the country (No. 9 on KenPom) and ranks second behind only UConn amongst Big East teams in both scoring defense and field goal percentage.

Forward Josh Oduro has stepped up without Hopkins as well and is averaging 14.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Point guard Jayden Pierre has produced 9.4 points and 3.2 assists and Ticket Gaines, who came over from George Mason with Oduro and English, has provided 9.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.

Hoping to knock out January

No one in the UConn program has forgotten about what happened last January. Those who weren’t involved at the time, like Cam Spencer and the freshmen, have been made aware of the 3-5 stretch that made, but very nearly broke, the season.

“That’s not been lost on us. We’ve talked about January. We were mad at January,” Hurley said. “We’ve said some derogatory things about January throughout the month, like ‘Let’s get January back for what January did to us’ and some not-so-nice words about January. But now we have a chance, if we’re able to take care of business (Wednesday) night, to love January again. We hated January.”

This January could’ve been just as bad after Clingan went down at the end of December, but the Huskies were able to win five straight and claim the AP No. 1 ranking before his return. They have a chance to end the month with a 19-2 record, a No. 1 ranking and the top spot in the Big East standings.

“This year’s January is a million times better than last January,” Karaban said. “The vibes are tremendous right now.”

What to know

Site: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs

Time: 8:30 p.m.

Records: No. 1 UConn: 18-2 (8-1 Big East), Providence: 14-6 (5-4 Big East)

Series history: UConn leads, 47-31

Last meeting: March 9, 2023 – UConn 73, Providence 66 in the Big East Tournament first round

TV: FS1 – Tim Brando and Donny Marshall

Radio: UConn Sports Network on FOX Sports Radio 97.9 – Mike Crispino, Wayne Norman