Advertisement

UConn men looking to close out a spotless January with a win over PC

Jan. 30—STORRS — January can be a cruel month in the college basketball world.

Conference season hits hard, knocking some teams for a loop.

Just ask UConn.

Last January, the Huskies fell into a rut, losing five of eight games.

They entered this month determined to avoid another freefall.

Mission accomplished.

No. 1 UConn (18-2, 8-1) can finish the month undefeated if it can beat Providence (14-6, 5-4) on Wednesday in Big East action at Gampel Pavilion. Game time is 8:30 p.m.

The Huskies are 7-0 since Jan. 1 despite playing without Donovan Clingan for four games.

"That's not been lost on us," said coach Dan Hurley of his team's success this month. "We've talked about January. We were mad at January. We've said some derogatory things about January. Let's get January back for what January did to us.

"But now we have a chance if we're able to take care of business (Wednesday) night to begin to love January again. And we hated January."

UConn really hit its stride on Sunday, playing perhaps its most complete game this season in a 99-56 win over Xavier in Hartford.

Hurley reacted by running his usual tough practice on Tuesday.

"There's a high level of relief when you win and we'll enjoy it for the night, then the next day, the preparation starts," Hurley said. "We're maniacal about our preparation. I look for any type of crack in human behavior, people getting complacent. I probably was tougher on them after that game then I would be after a loss.

"Because you are dealing with human nature. We've been on such a great run for awhile now, you don't want to make yourself vulnerable by getting away from what we do. If we don't stick to our script defensively, offensively, on the backboard and play as hard as we do, this thing will start to unravel like it did last year when we got away from our script."

You can make a case that UConn wouldn't have won the national championship without going from last year's January struggles. The Huskies grew as a team and took off from there.

They're happy to skip that lesson this season.

They're chasing some big goals, with winning the Big East regular season title for the first time since 2006 and finishing undefeated at home at the top of the list right now.

They're in great shape, holding down first place in the Big East and taking an 11-0 home record into Wednesday's game.

"The vibes are tremendous right now," redshirt sophomore Alex Karaban said. "Our confidence is through the roof. We're playing great basketball and we're really coming together as a team.

But they're not satisfied. They know one slip up could cost them.

"We're just focusing on the areas that we need to get better at," graduate guard Cam Spencer said. "We're watching a lot of film. We're getting our full group back. We have great chemistry right now and we just have to keep it going."

Providence has played the upset role before in the long-running series between New England rivals.

Last season, the Friars stunned the then No. 4 Huskies on Jan. 4 in Providence. They walked out of the XL Center in 2021 with a four-point win.

Under first-year coach Kim English, Providence has regrouped after losing All-Big East preseason first team selection Bryce Hopkins to a season-ending injury on Jan. 3. The Friars are riding a three-game winning streak.

Junior guard Devin Carter is on a tear. He ranks second in Big East scoring overall at 18.6 points and grabs eight rebounds per game. English, who previously coached at George Mason, brought some quality players with him to Providence, including graduate forward Josh Oduro (14.8 points).

"When you lose one of the most talented players in the league, it's a big hit," Hurley said. "It's an emotional hit. It's never good and never easy, losing him for the season, too. ...They've done a great job of recovering and they're coming in with a winning streak and feeling really good.

"The positive side for them, Carter is one of the best guards in the country. He's an NBA player."

Win or lose on Wednesday, UConn will be in first place when the calendar flips to February on Thursday.

February was a pretty darn good month last season for the Huskies and March even better.

"This team has been so impressive to me this year...," Hurley said. "We still have to prove ourselves in this brutal league."

g.keefe@theday.com

No. 1 UCONN vs. PROVIDENCE

Location: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs

Tip time: 8:30 p.m. (FS1)

Records: UConn 18-2, 8-1; Providence 14-6, 5-4

Last game: UConn defeated Xavier, 99-56, Sunday; Providence beat Georgetown, 84-76, Saturday

Series: UConn leads, 47-31, winning last meeting 73-66 in Big East tournament quarterfinals on March 9 in NYC

Probable starters: UConn, 6-5 graduate guard Tristen Newton (15.8 pts, 6.4 rebs, 5.8 assists), 6-4 graduate guard Cam Spencer (14.8 pts, 4.4 rebs), 6-6 fr. guard Stephon Castle (9.6 pts, 4.7 rebs), 6-8 r-so. forward Alex Karaban (14.7 pts, 5.9 rebs), 7-2 so. center Donovan Clingan (13.1 pts, 6.3 rebs, 2 blks)

Providence, 6-2 so. guard Jayden Pierre (9.4 pts), 6-4 r-so. guard Corey Floyd, Jr. (3.5 pts), 6-3 jr. guard Devin Carter (18.6 pts, 8 rebs), 6-7 grad guard Ticket Gaines (9.1 pts, 4.4 rebs), 6-9 grad forward Josh Oduro (14.8 pts, 6.7 rebs)

Noteworthy: UConn won eight straight, PC three in a row. ... First of two meetings, with the Huskies visiting the Friars in the regular season finale on March 9. ... PC first-year coach Kim English spent the previous two seasons at George Mason. ... Friars are 2-15 all-time against the No. 1 team, with both wins at home. ... Top reserve: 6-5 fr. guard Garwey Dual (3.7 pts). ... Floyd had a redshirt season at UConn before transferring to PC. ... PC is 2nd in the Big East overall in scoring defense at 66.1 and FG% defense at 39.8, UConn is 1st in both at 64.1 and 39.6. ... Hot: Castle earned his fifth Big East freshman of the week honor on Monday. Cold: Spencer is shooting 35.7% from the field in the last three games. ... Newton one of 10 finalists for 2024 Bob Cousy award that honors nation's top point guard. ... Huskies 11-0 at home, Friars 2-3 on the road. ... Heading into Tuesday's action, the Huskies were fifth in the NCAA NET Rankings. ... Up next: UConn visits St. John's at noon Sunday at Madison Square Garden in New York.