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Gameday: UConn vs. Villanova | TV: 6:30 p.m. on FS1
The Huskies are hosting the Wildcats at the XL Center in their first game back after the holidays.
Dan Hurley’s Huskies are favored by 12 points at home against the 7-5 Villanova Wildcats, though tonight’s game will still be a tough one.
Kyle Neptune’s first season as head coach has been marked by early struggles. But despite suffering four straight losses, Villanova enters tonight’s contest on a winning streak.
Starting with a victory over a decent Oklahoma team (ranked No. 32 in KenPom), they’ve rattled off five straight, most recently beating St. John’s by 15. You can check out our in-depth preview of this matchup on The UConn Blog.
“They’re one of the best offensive teams we’ll play the whole year,” Dan Hurley said in a pre-game interview. “They have a lot of really top-level, blue-chip recruits and guys that have won championships [and] final fours, so it’s a hard game.”
The Huskies remain undefeated and have won all of their games by double digits, but still caught a scare while hosting lowly Georgetown in their last game. The Hoyas held a 7-point lead in the second half.
While — by Hurley’s admission — focus may have been an issue, the Georgetown game was also a sign that UConn is going to get every team’s best shot every single night.
“In the past, when [UConn] was growing and improving, we looked at some of the matchups against the bigger brand programs and tried to make it more than it was,” Hurley said, acknowledging that the circumstances are now flipped.
It will be hard to prevent UConn players from reading into their own team’s hype. But Hurley surely hopes to do so, saying that it may have contributed to the Georgetown game being closer than desired.
“You've read too much. You're on social media, you start believing that it's other things that cause you to win games, when it really is doing the hard things better than the opponent,” Hurley said.
“Our identity is wrapped up in elite defense, winning the backboard, playing relentlessly…playing with force, and then sharing the ball…if we don’t do those things, we’ll become like everybody else.”
UConn appears to be a much stronger team on both sides. Villanova has taken slightly better care of the ball and commits about three fewer fouls per game than the Huskies. Otherwise, Dan Hurley’s squad has performed much better in most key statistical measures of success.
Donovan Clingan had some dental work done.
The freshman had a tooth knocked out due to two elbows to the face in the Georgetown game, Hurley said. A former Seton Hall player himself, Hurley shared that his own teeth have been repaired as well.
“Mine are fake too,” he said. “If you played long enough…you've caught enough elbows. We all have crowns and bridges and stuff.”
Hurley on what Tristen Newton brings to the table as the lead ballhandler:
“He was incredibly efficient the other day…With Andre’s skill set and what we have at center, and the shooting skill that Alex brings at the 4, he's perfect next to Jordan and Andre because of his versatility. He could play make, assist and facilitate…also, when Andre’s really pushing the transition, just to have all that shooting and scoring on the perimeter with the centers, he fits perfectly with those guys.”
Hurley on the impact of Jordan Hawkins:
“He’s been a really good two-way player. The numbers aren't as gaudy as [James Bouknight’s] were as a sophomore, [but] obviously this is a deeper offensive team…Even when he's not putting up huge numbers, though, people are glued to him, it creates space.”