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UConn and DePaul meet in Big East mismatch

Feb. 13—On paper, UConn versus DePaul looks to be as big a mismatch as King Kong versus Bambi.

The first-place Huskies (22-2, 12-1) are the beasts of the Big East and the Blue Demons (3-20, 0-12) reside in the league's basement.

The two teams meet at 9 p.m. Wednesday at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. No. 1 UConn is riding a 12-game winning streak.

It's just the kind of basketball game that makes coach Dan Hurley uneasy.

Hurley would rather face a difficult opponent than a significantly weaker one, especially with the postseason only a month away.

"Playing those big high level games is not going to affect your seeding a great deal if you're unsuccessful, whereas these types of games — Quad 3 or Quad 4 road games — they're brutal games to play because they're losable games and they could potentially wreck months of great work.

"Then there's the human nature piece with your team and with young people, especially when it's been so long since you've lost a game. Just really trying to hammer that home to our players, that if we stray from what we do, if we get away from our identity, we're as vulnerable as any team in the country."

The Huskies haven't lost since Dec. 20.

That's almost as long as DePaul has gone between wins. Since beating Chicago State on Dec. 30, the Blue Demons have dropped 11 in a row, including an 85-56 decision on Jan. 2 in Storrs.

DePaul is a mess right now.

Matt Brady was elevated to interim head coach when Tony Stubblefield was fired in late January. The Blue Demons are ranked last in numerous Big East statistical categories

Perhaps UConn's biggest challenge will be avoiding looking past DePaul and ahead to playing No. 4 Marquette on Saturday in Hartford.

"Every one of these games counts the same in the Big East," Hurley said. "(Assistant coach) Luke (Murray) has been preaching that to the group."

Despite the comfortable margin of victory in the first meeting, Hurley stated that the Huskies didn't play well.

Hurley also wasn't thrilled with UConn's second half performance in Saturday's 25-point win at Georgetown.

Wednesday's game is important to UConn, which is trying to win the program's first Big East regular season title in 18 years.

"This time of year, you have to be playing championship worthy basketball if you want to pursue championships at this point," Hurley said. "There's a ton to gain by winning and playing to the standard.

"And we look around college basketball and see teams in general struggling on the road, or in conference games, period. It's a chance to get another road win."

Starting Saturday, the Huskies will enter the toughest part of their schedule.

In their last six games, they'll host No. 4 Marquette, visit No. 17 Creighton, host Villanova and Seton Hall and finish the regular season by traveling to Marquette and Providence.

There's plenty for UConn to play for, including seeding for the upcoming Big East and NCAA tournaments, in the final few weeks.

"Everyone knows what's at stake," Hurley said. "The information is readily available. The great thing for us this time of year is, when you coach or play at UConn, you have the benefit of playing with constant pressure because of the history and the expectations of UConn that maybe other programs have the benefit of flying more under the radar."

g.keefe@theday.com

No. 1 UCONN at DEPAUL

Location: Wintrust Arena, Chicago

Tip time: 9 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Records: UConn 22-2, 12-1; DePaul 3-20, 0-12

Last game: UConn won at Georgetown, 89-64, Saturday; DePaul lost at St. John's, 85-57, Tuesday

Series: UConn leads, 18-1, winning the last 17 meetings including 85-56 in Storrs on Jan. 2.

Probable starters: UConn, 6-5 graduate guard Tristen Newton (15.2 pts, 6.6 rebs, 5.8 assists), 6-4 graduate guard Cam Spencer (15.3 pts, 4.6 rebs), 6-6 fr. guard Stephon Castle (10.9 pts, 4.4 rebs), 6-8 r-so. forward Alex Karaban (14.7 pts, 5.6 rebs), 7-2 so. center Donovan Clingan (12.2 pts, 6.4 rebs, 2.1 blks)

DePaul, 6-0 sr. guard Jalen Terry (7.6 pts, 3.1 rebs), 6-6 so. guard Elijah Fisher (9.3 pts, 3.7 rebs), 6-7 so. forward Jaden Henley (7.3 pts, 2.3 rebs), 6-9 sr. forward Jeremiah Oden (8.7 pts, 3.9 rebs), 6-9 fr. center Churchill Abass (3.1 pts, 3.1 rebs)

Noteworthy: UConn off to its best start since opening the 2008-09 season at 24-1. ... With a win, the Huskies will equal last year's Big East victory total. ... In the last meeting, Karban led the Huskies with 25 pts, Castle had 17. UConn shot 61.1% from the field and had 26 assists. ... DePaul ranked last in the Big East overall in scoring offense (64.0), scoring defense (79.6), rebounding margin (minus 7.1), turnover margin (minus 3.43). UConn first in scoring offense (81.2), scoring defense (64.1), FG% (49.8), FG% defense (39.7). ... UConn's only loss to DePaul in the series came on the road in 2007. ... Top reserve: 6-8 sr. forward Da'Sean Nelson (10.6 pts, 3.8 rebs). ... Leading scorer Chico Carter Jr. has been sidelined with a rib injury. ... Huskies own a 48-9 record as the No. 1 team in program history. ... Hot: Spencer 4th in the nation in 3 pt. FG% at 45.2. Cold: Clingan shooting 50.6% from the foul line. ... UConn only team in the country with five players averaging at least 10 points and four rebounds per game. ...Huskies 5-2 on the road, Blue Demons 3-11 at home. ... Castle earned his UConn record 7th Big East freshman of the week honor on Monday. ... Hurley says Newton's bruised hand is "feeling much better." ... Heading into Tuesday's action, UConn was No. 4 in the NCAA Net Rankings. Huskies are tied with Houston and Purdue for most Quad 1 wins with eight. ... Up next: UConn hosts No. 4 Marquette Saturday in Hartford.