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Dan Hurley looking for UConn to build toughness in Bubbleville

The Huskies’ head coach was not satisfied with the team’s defensive effort across the first two games.

Dan Hurley
UConn men’s basketball’ head coach Dan Hurley and assistant coach Tom Moore. Hurley and his staff are looking for increased toughness in their games at Mohegan Sun.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Despite winning its first two games relatively comfortably, UConn men’s basketball still had stretches of play that were far from ideal considering the lower-tier competition. From Dan Hurley’s perspective, defensive effort was lacking. The UConn head coach wants to see more toughness out of his squad as they get ready to see heightened competition in the Legends Classic.

After Friday’s game, Hurley made it clear everyone’s role on the team has been “up for grabs” in practice this week.

“We’re trying to send a message that obviously we weren’t happy with the first two days and that we need to be a much tougher team and that starts tomorrow night,” Hurley said on a call with reporters Wednesday night.

UConn (2-0) was leading by 19 at one point in the first half against Hartford but then let the Hawks climb back to within three after a nearly four minute scoring drought, and nearly 6:30 without a field goal, to open the half.

“There’s a standard at the defensive end that you’ve got to uphold,” Hurley said. “There’s a standard of toughness, that you’ve got to uphold if you’re going to play for me.”

Hurley mentioned that the team was getting beat off the dribble consistently, which contributed to the foul trouble Friday. The Huskies got called for 24 personal fouls on Friday and had six players with three or more fouls on the night. As a result, Hartford took 27 foul shots and sank 21 of them – accounting for nearly 37% of its total scoring on the night.

Of course, not all situations are equal but, for comparison, Villanova allowed just nine free throws against Hartford on Tuesday night, despite 16 personal fouls, and won 87-53.

Hurley and the team were planning to play Tuesday but Vanderbilt had to pull out of the Legends Classic due to COVID-19. So the team had more time to practice this week and it gave Hurley’s staff “an opportunity to grind these guys up and set the tone for how our team want to look.”

“We’ve practiced the last three days and it’s been a cauldron of intensity,” Hurley said.

He is now looking to use these next two games against USC and NC State at Mohegan Sun as a measuring stick to see how the roster is looking early in the season.

“This is an important week for us to find out where we’re at,” Hurley said.

The third-year head coach seemed impressed by the talent at USC, a team that features probable lottery pick Evan Mobley and his older brother, Isaiah, in their front court.

“Their overall team size, it’s impressive,” Hurley remarked on the Trojans. “There’s not many teams in the country that have their type of size or length or emphasis on throwing the ball inside.”

USC has won its first three games by an average of 16 points per game, including a 26-point win over BYU Tuesday afternoon. They have four players averaging double-digits so far this season, led by Evan Mobley’s 16.3 PPG. Each Mobley brother has grabbed at least nine rebounds per game so far as well.

The Trojans have also averaged 32.7 defensive rebounds in their three games, which could be difficult for UConn considering so much of their rebounding totals comes on the offensive end. It may even out, though, as USC struggles to grab offensive boards themselves.

Other notes:

  • Hurley said Akok Akok is going to be another couple weeks as he recovers from an injury after recently being cleared for 5-on-5 full-court play. He was shut down in practice Wednesday as a result of a separate minor injury.
  • The team is currently looking for an opponent for a matchup on Dec. 7, giving the team one more tune up before Big East play starts on Dec. 11.