With the opening game a day away, he stopped practice briefly Wednesday and looked to relax his players.
“They looked anxious, a little jittery in the beginning of practice,” Hurley said after the Huskies finished their workout. “We tried to get it across in the huddle, for where we are at in the season right now, the coaches have confidence. We know we’re going to play really, really hard, we’ve prepared as well as we can the last several months for this. … ‘You’ve earned the right with the work you’ve put in to go out tomorrow night with some confidence, some swagger, with an attitude that you’re ready to play a great game.’”
Hurley was hired after last season’s 14-18 debacle to bring the excitement and the swagger back to the program, and the Huskies open the season against Morehead State, a mid-major, on Thursday at 7 p.m.at Gampel Pavilion. This game, and Sunday’s against Missouri-Kansas City, are part of UConn’s slate of games in the 2K Wounded Warrior Classic, which culminates at Madison Square Garden next week.
This first game is sold out, so Gampel will have more than 10,000 on hand to see how much UConn has changed under Hurley, the first opening night sellout on campus since 2015, the first overall since March 6, 2016. The buzz is back. Now UConn must keep it.
“That all comes with just getting a new coach,” said senior Jalen Adams, the Huskies’ top scorer the last two seasons. “Everybody is anxious to see what changes he brings and he’s known for bringing programs that had off years to have great years. We’re just excited for tomorrow. You’ve got to get the crowd into it so they keep coming back. When we have these tough games at home, we’re going to need their support.”
Morehead State began its season with a 102-82 victory over Kentucky Christian. Malek Green had 22 points and nine rebounds, the Eagles, returning six of their top seven scorers from last season’s 8-21 team, took 22 shots from 3-point range, making seven, and had 21 offensive rebounds. UConn, which struggled on the boards in the exhibition victory over Southern Connecticut last week, focused on rebounding this week in practice.
“We’ve got to be a gang rebounding team,” Hurley said, “and our guards can’t be afraid to get their noses dirty in there.”
Hurley hadn’t settled on a starting lineup, but Adams and Alterique Gilbert figure to be in the backcourt together, with freshman Brendan Adams, sophomores Tyler Polley, Isaiah Whaley and Josh Carlton and senior Eric Cobb getting significant minutes.
“We’ve been trying to perfect the things we’ve been trying to do,” Adams said, “being great in ball screens, defending it and playing it on offense. Transition defense – we want to make teams get in the half court and try to turn them over, and that allows us to get in transition.”
Redshirt freshman Sid Wilson remains suspended from game competition for an undisclosed violation of university policy that occurred last season, but he is practicing with the team.
“He’s still out indefinitely,” Hurley said. “We’ll update on that when there is a change with that. He’s been practicing well, though, and he’s been doing the things he’s supposed to do.”
Kassoum Yakwe ready
Grad transfer Kassoum Yakwe, 6 feet 7, who has been out much of the preseason with a foot injury, is ready to go.
“I’m feeling great, can’t wait to get on the court and help the team,” said Yakwe, who led the Big East in blocked shots as a freshman at St. John’s. “I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready to help the team and put UConn on the map. Whenever the coach calls my name to go into the game, I’m ready to play.”
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