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UConn notes: Huskies hope for favorable path on Selection Sunday

Mar. 16—NEW YORK — Brooklyn to Boston to Phoenix.

That's the postseason path that UConn set as a goal prior to the season.

All three cities are NCAA tournament sites, the first two in the East Region.

"We've talked about that since the summer," coach Dan Hurley said recently.

Odds heavily favor that the second-ranked Huskies will start their March Madness journey in Brooklyn. They're expected to be the No. 1 seed in the East when the NCAA tournament field is announced on Selection Sunday.

UConn will gather on campus to watch the show, which starts at 6 p.m.

The outcome of UConn's Big East tournament championship game against Marquette will not impact the program's position in the field.

For several Huskies, including graduate guard Cam Spencer, they'll be getting their first taste of NCAA tourney play.

They also have some battle-tested veterans. Tristen Newton, Hassan Diarra, Alex Karaban, Samson Johnson and Donovan Clingan were all part of last year's national championship team.

UConn's quest to become the first team since Florida (2006, 2007) to repeat as national champs will begin either Thursday or Friday, depending on the site.

By the way, first round action is Friday in Brooklyn.

During the offseason, Hurley talked to former Florida coach Billy Donovan a couple times about the challenges of trying to go back to back as well as a few other coaches.

Hurley has followed coaching idols' advice this season.

"Coaches like coach (Jim) Calhoun, (Michigan State's) Tom Izzo and coach Donovan are like my college coaching idols," Hurley said. "(Donovan) said really don't make it about that. Don't chase a repeat. ... Don't pursue the achievement. Just do a great job, improve as a coach and serve your players well and let the chips fall where they may.

"But don't obsess over that accomplishment or else it's going to make you crazy."

Spencer's gifts

Veteran guard Cam Spencer is handing out assists at a career-best clip during the Big East tournament.

He set his career best in consecutive games, finishing with eight assists in Thursday's quarterfinal and nine in Friday's semifinal.

"The teammates that I have, they make you look good with their shot-making," said Spencer, who had a career-high tying 105 assists this season prior to Saturday. "Everybody is so unselfish, so it's easy to play with them. Credit to them for knocking down shots."

Heading into Saturday's game, UConn needed 18 assists to break the three-game record for that mark held by St. John's, which had 69 in 1986.

The Huskies combined for 52 assists on 66 field goals — an impressive ratio — in the first two games.

Pitino on UConn: "They're just a machine

Add St. John's Rick Pitino to the long line of coaches to praise UConn after losing to the Huskies.

"They're a great basketball team...," said Pitino after Friday's semifinal loss to UConn. "They do a lot of things really, really well. They're building a hell of a program, a hell of a program. They've built a hell of a program from Jim Calhoun. Kevin Ollie won the (national) championship.

Pitino wasn't finished.

"They're just a machine," Pitino said. "They can beat you 100 different ways. Sometimes you can have great talent, but talent doesn't play well together. ... They have open shots that are really good, but they go after a better shot that's great.

"And that's the making of a great offensive basketball team because they're always looking for a better shot for their guys."

Hurley chasing history

Hurley had a chance to do something special Saturday night.

Prior to Saturday, only Patrick Ewing had won a Big East tournament title as a player (1982, 1983, 1984, 1985) and coach (2021), accomplishing the feat at Georgetown.

Hurley was a reserve guard on the 1993 Seton Hall tournament title winning team. Seton Hall defeated Syracuse, 103-70, in the final.

"That was a pretty long time ago," Hurley said Friday night. 'We put it on the Cuse pretty good in that one."

News and notes

UConn played its seventh game in Madison Square this season. The Huskies came into Saturday's final with a 6-0 mark at Storrs South, beating Texas, Indiana, North Carolina and St. John's during the regular season and Xavier and St. John's in the Big East tournament. ... The Huskies have back-to-back 30 win seasons for the first time since accomplishing the feat in 1997-98 and 1998-99. ... In Friday's semifinal win, Newton and Spencer became the first teammates in Big East tournament history to finish with at least 20 points and nine assists apiece.

g.keefe@theday.com