UConn hosts neighbor Hartford with defense on its mind

NCAA

UConn will look to go to 2-0 when the Huskies host in-state Hartford Friday night in Storrs, Conn., in a game between two schools separated by just about 30 miles.

The Huskies are coming off a 102-75 win over Central Connecticut State on Wednesday in their season opener. Sophomore James Bouknight scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and junior transfer R.J. Cole added 17 points, six assists and four steals in his UConn debut.

Five Huskies scored in double figures, and UConn dominated in rebounds (43-22), second-chance points (21-2) and points in the paint (48-24) while hitting 55.9 percent of their field-goal attempts.

Coach Dan Hurley said the team has work to do to get better on defense, however.

“We all live for this. To wake up with butterflies and nerves about an opener or game day, as coaches and players you felt alive again,” Hurley said. “You felt more like yourself. It was just awesome to be a part of playing and competing again. I’m going to give my guys a mulligan on the defensive end, but come Friday night, they’ve gotten their mulligan.”

Hurley attributed whatever he didn’t like on defense to the program being shut down for two weeks after a positive COVID-19 case earlier this month that cut into full-team practice time. He said not being properly prepared can cost a higher-profile program a crucial win, but virus-related rules don’t give teams the luxury of preparation.

“When you’re out for two weeks and you miss 12 practices … it is hard to develop the defensive toughness, defensive mentality. If you’re going to have to sit out two weeks, there should be a rule in place where you have at least a week to practice and prepare. Everybody needs this back, but we need to do right by these kids. (Wednesday) was like an extended practice, and losing one of these games can wreck your season.”

Hartford, of the America East conference, is set to open its season Friday. It will be the first meeting between the two schools since 2008, and UConn is 13-1 all-time in previous matchups. But the Hawks could offer a challenge, with eight returning players and 75.4 percent of its scoring back from last season.

That includes six of the top seven scorers from 2019-20. The group is led by forward Hunter Marks, who had averages of 10.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.

Hartford finished in third place last season in the America East with a 9-7 record (18-15 overall) and was scheduled to face Vermont in the conference tournament championship game before the season was shut down.

Coach John Gallagher said his team is ready and has stayed clear of any preseason COVID-19 interruptions.

“We’ve been on the court. We’ll have 30 practices before the UConn game,” Gallagher said. “All systems are a go. Our full packages are in. I don’t know how good the packages are going to be in the first game, but our system is in and we will be throwing a lot of different stuff at UConn.”

And he’s looking forward to seeing what his roster will do on the season.

“We’re deep,” Gallagher said. “Guys six-through-10 would usually start for me. I just want to make sure we play some games this year, because this is a roster for the next three years.”

–Field Level Media

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