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Surging UConn begins two-game road trip by visiting Georgetown

Feb. 9—With every win, UConn creeps closer to its goal of winning the program's first Big East regular season title in 18 years.

The Huskies have looked nearly unstoppable while winning 11 straight Big East games, the longest league winning streak in nine years.

As the No. 1 ranked team, they've been the talk of the college basketball world.

But the Big East leading Huskies (21-2, 11-1) are still eight games from the regular season finish line, including two left against second-place Marquette.

Five of their last eight games are on the road, starting with a trip to Washington, D.C., to play Georgetown at noon on Saturday.

"We're playing for a regular season championship here down the stretch," coach Dan Hurley said on Friday. "These are pressure-packed games."

So far, the Huskies have avoided any unexpected slip-ups this season. Their only league loss came at Seton Hall, which is in third place.

Now they face the two worst teams in the league — 10th place Georgetown (8-14, 1-10) and last place DePaul (3-20, 0-12) — in consecutive road games. They visit DePaul on Wednesday.

Hurley attributes UConn taking care of business to the mindset of the program and the coaching staff's preparation.

"In general, we've just been able to put a group of players and coaches that love the game, prioritize winning and we show up to work every day and do the right things," Hurley said. "I think we're hyper vigilant as coaches looking for any overconfidence and complacency. We try to nip and address that in real time."

The Hoyas, under first-year coach Ed Cooley, are in a freefall, losing seven straight.

UConn already has beaten Georgetown this season.

In the first meeting, the Huskies built a nine-point halftime lead and rode the performances of Alex Karaban and Cam Spencer, who combined for 46 points, to an 80-67 victory in Hartford.

Georgetown gave UConn problems on the offensive glass, especially senior forward Supreme Cook. The Hoyas grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, the second highest total against the Huskies this season.

"They really were physical in the paint and on the backboard," Hurley said. "They're a top 50 rebounding team."

Considering the opposition, the next two games may allow Hurley to give his reserves some extended playing time. His rotation is basically eight players.

UConn's starters' minutes are on the rise. Tristen Newton and Cam Spencer have played 37 to 38 minutes in some recent games.

Not an ideal situation going forward.

Hurley wants to play freshmen Jaylin Stewart and Solo Ball more, but they have to earn it. Stewart is averaging 8.6 minutes and Ball 10.3 in Big East games.

"The onus is on me, the onus is on those guys," Hurley said. "I think that they've got to do things on the court that make me want to keep them on the court. But I've also got to give them opportunities earlier. Sometimes when you're in our position and you've built up as much equity as we've built up this year, in a way you start to coach a little bit too protective.

"It's something that we've talked about. I've talked to (assistant coaches) Kimani (Young) and Luke (Murray), telling them to suggest harder to get those guys in there, be more forceful. We need to be at least eight, if not nine (deep)."

Time is running short to develop team depth.

UConn is approaching the toughest stretch of its schedule.

After visiting Georgetown and DePaul, four of UConn's last six games are against the top four teams in the standings right now. The Huskies will face No. 7 Marquette twice, visit No. 19 Creighton and host Seton Hall.

And their regular season finale is at Providence, a notoriously difficult place to play.

So, they still have a lot of hard work to do to try to clinch a Big East regular season championship.

g.keefe@theday.com

No. 1 UCONN at GEORGETOWN

Location: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

Tip time: Noon (FS1)

Records: UConn 21-2, 11-1; Georgetown 8-14, 1-10

Last game: UConn beat Butler, 71-62, Tuesday; Georgetown at Seton Hall, 76-70, Wednesday

Series: UConn leads, 37-36, winning last meeting 80-67 on Jan. 14 in Hartford. Huskies won seven straight vs. Hoyas overall.

Probable starters: UConn, 6-5 graduate guard Tristen Newton (15.6 pts, 6.7 rebs, 5.6 assists), 6-4 graduate guard Cam Spencer (15.5 pts, 4.5 rebs), 6-6 fr. guard Stephon Castle (10.6 pts, 4.5 rebs), 6-8 r-so. forward Alex Karaban (14.2 pts, 5.6 rebs), 7-2 so. center Donovan Clingan (12.6 pts, 6.5 rebs, 2 blks)

Georgetown, 6-2 so. guard Jayden Epps (18.3 pts, 4.4 assists), 6-3 sr. guard Jay Heath (8.7 pts), 6-6 jr. forward Dontrez Styles (13.1 pts, 5.9 rebs), 6-9 sr. forward Supreme Cook (11.3 pts, 8 rebs), 6-9 grad forward Ismael Massoud (8.1 pts, 4.3 rebs)

Noteworthy: UConn is 47-9 as the No. 1 team in program history. ... Georgetown's only Big East win came vs DePaul on Jan. 6. ... In the first meeting, Karaban (26 pts) and Spencer (20) led the Huskies, who shot 51.1% from the field. Cook (18 pts, 13 rebs) and Epps (16) were the top scorers for the Hoyas, who shot 34%. ... Top reserve: 6-4 fr. guard Rowan Brumbaugh (7.2 pts, 2.2 rebs). ... Former PC coach Ed Cooley in his first season at Georgetown. ... Hurley on Karaban (ankle): "Alex is better. He's definitely healthier and definitely moving better." .... Hot: Spencer is averaging 21.5 pts in the last two games, converting 14 of 25 field goal attempts, 9 of 15 3-pointers. Cold: Newton is 10 for his last 31 from the field. ... UConn ranks 1st in the Big East in scoring offense, scoring defense, FG% and FG% defense. ... Huskies are 18-0 when leading at halftime. .... All five starters have hit the 20-pt mark in a game, with Spencer leading the way with six times. ... Huskies 4-2 on the road, Hoyas 7-7 at home. ... Prior to Friday's action, UConn was No. 4 in the NCAA NET Rankings. ... Up next: UConn continues its two-game road trip with a visit to DePaul at 9 p.m. on Wednesday.