No. 20 Connecticut has won four consecutive games and has a very good chance to finish January strong when the Huskies visit struggling DePaul in a Big East game Saturday in Chicago.
After losing in overtime to Seton Hall on Jan. 8 in their first game back from a COVID pause, the Huskies (14-4, 5-2 Big East) have reeled off four straight wins. The most recent was a 96-73 blowout of Georgetown on Tuesday. Although Georgetown also is struggling, much like the Blue Demons (10-9, 1-8), UConn coach Dan Hurley noted afterward that he reminded his team about the history between the teams in the Big East to get his players motivated.
He also said that winning games such as that one against the Hoyas, who enter the weekend winless in the conference, is “a huge part of your maturation as a program is that you don’t lose games you’re supposed to win, home and away.”
That same mantra should apply here.
Yes, the Blue Demons have been more competitive at home under first-year coach Tony Stubblefield. On this court, they knocked off a then-ranked Seton Hall team that had just beaten UConn, and also lost to Xavier by one. DePaul also led Villanova by five at halftime before falling by 15 at this venue on Jan. 8.
But the rematch against Villanova in Pennsylvania on Tuesday was much different as DePaul fell, 67-43. One of the biggest things that was different from the previous contest was the continued absence of DePaul’s leading scorer, Javon Freeman-Liberty, who has missed the past three games with a groin injury suffered when he crashed into a courtside media table in the second half of that win over the Pirates on Jan. 13. Freeman-Liberty scored 34 points in the earlier game versus Villanova.
In two road games since then, the Blue Demons have averaged 45 points without Freeman-Liberty. Stubblefield said after the loss to Villanova that he did not know when Freeman-Liberty would return to action.
“For us in a game like this,” Stubblefield said Tuesday about the loss to ‘Nova, “we have to come in and play extremely well to give ourselves a chance.”
Granted, DePaul should score more at home behind players such as David Jones (14.9 points) and Brandon Johnson (10.5).
DePaul shoots only 32.2 percent from beyond the arc, so perhaps one of Hurley’s worries after the game against the Hoyas will be eased.
Hurley was concerned that the Hoyas shot 52.4 percent from 3-point range, blaming it on “blown closeouts and slow reactions getting to corner shooters.”
He added, “We got through the COVID pause. We’re able to practice consistently. Our team is healthy now. We expect to play at a very high level.”
Tyrese Martin said, “Just going against each other every day (in practice), it looks scary to see, when everybody’s on fire and things like that, what we can do. And today was sort of like that.”
Martin (14.1) is one of three double-figure scorers for the Huskies, behind Adama Sanogo (15.9 points, 8.4 rebounds) and R.J. Cole (15.6 points, 4.8 assists).
–Field Level Media