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When UConn men take the gloves off, the ball stays secure

GLENDALE, Ariz. — When the UConn men took the court inside cavernous State Farm Stadium for their open practices, they gave the place the white glove treatment.

Actually, they were white and blue, but the point is this: As the Huskies leave their footprints on NCAA history, they’re not leaving many fingerprints. Dribbling drills with batting gloves are part of UConn’s warmups.

“I know sometimes we get some crap for the batting gloves,” coach Dan Hurley said, “the dribbling warm-up that we do, that’s kind of high school-ish in a way, but very fundamental. If you look at the way we take care of the ball, it’s rare. It’s rare.”

UConn has only four turnovers in its 86-72 victory over Alabama, a game against an explosive, 3-point shooting offense where limiting possessions was a key. The Crimson Tide never got the chance to play fast, and had only two fastbreak points in the game.

The Huskies have to hold onto the ball for just one more game, a match with Purdue for the national championship Monday night.

“We’re always trying to find ways to up our game with all the details,” said senior walk-on Andrew Hurley, the coach’s son. “It just makes the ballhandling a little bit harder. I think it’s a little bit of a mindset thing, too. Everything we do has a reason for it, we don’t care how we look when we’re doing it.”

Having to dribble the ball and control with gloves, in all the ways a player would have to do so with bare hands, takes more concentration and focus on controlling the ball, which, when it becomes something to do without consciousness, there is less sloppiness or carelessness with the ball.

“I’ve done that before,” freshman Stephon Castle said. “It wasn’t new to me. It’s just for our ballhandling. It’s been working for us all year, so I don’t see it stopping any time soon. It makes the ball slippery, so if we can handle the ball with the gloves on, then without the gloves it’ll be even better.”

The Huskies (36-3) have averaged 9.6 turnovers per game, 17th among 350-plus teams in NCAA Division I. The way they move the ball around, with speed — they are tied for second in the nation with 18.7 assists per game — makes that low turnover number all the more significant. In five NCAA Tournament games, they have had 100 assists to 40 turnovers.

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“We fly with the ball,” Hurley said.

When video of the Huskies glove-handed drills in Boston during the East Regional were posted on social media, it generally met with approval from high school and youth coaches, though some thought it a drill better suited to younger players than accomplished collegiate players.

It’s not a new drill. Hall-of-Famer Pete Maravich, legendary ballhandler of the 1960s and 70s and later an instructor, used to do it. Hurley, whose father, Bob, won 28 state championships at St. Anthony’s High, has been using it, on and off, all his life.

“When I was a kid, we used to use garden gloves,” Dan Hurley said. “We’d wear them out. We have a bigger budget now.”

Ball security translates to something else: lead security. The Huskies are 33-0 in games in which they’ve led at halftime this season. So once they protected their single-digit lead over Alabama into the waning minutes, Hurley could exhale. He’s confident his team won’t give away the ball, and momentum and the lead with it.

“We’ve been doing (the gloves drill) since the summer,” Hassan Diarra said. “We kind of laughed it off at first, but we accepted it as part of the journey, part of the process. It’s all connected, all connected, how much we protect the ball. It may seem like such a silly thing, but it’s all connected. It works for us.”

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