Hurley, Huskies stand tall at 5-1 after latest win
HARTFORD – UConn coach Dan Hurley is not in a unique role, although it’s a difficult one with no true way to master it.
Taking over a college basketball team comes with the potentially awkward situation of coaching players you did not recruit. Players that agreed to sign with the school under the condition the previous coach would still be there. Players that may stay at the school, but do not necessarily want to be there.
Hurley has experience with this and has thrived, leading both Wagner and Rhode Island to quick turnarounds upon his arrival. And the early returns on his start at UConn trend in that positive direction as well.
After defeating New Hampshire, 91-66, at the XL Center on Saturday, the Huskies not only stand at 5-1, but have the look of dangerous team with postseason aspirations. The work Hurley has done with the holdovers from last season’s roster is the No. 1 reason why.
“I think that my approach as a high school coach has really helped me and getting players to buy-in quickly,” Hurley said. “I use a high school coaching mindset to coach the college guys by spending a great deal of time with them. I am the same guy every day. Hopefully, they see the care and passion and obsession I put into our program, into their careers, and into their development.”
On Saturday, the entire starting five – all returning players – each scored in double-digits. Jalen Adams and Josh Carlton each scored 17 and combined to shoot 15-of-18. Christian Vital notched 14 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Tyler Polley had 12 and Alterique Gilbert finished with 11.
“For us to win some of the high leverage games we have coming up, we may need 25 or 28 for Jalen, one of the explosive nights,” Hurley said. “In these type of games, these are the ones where we have to show balance. To get five guys in doubles was good for us. I am happy how they’ve responded to our message of passing the ball more.”
“We know that (Hurley) is not going to make us run plays after plays,” added Adams. “We run a little set to spread the defense out, then a couple of passes, and get the ball moving side-to-side. He just wants us attacking downhill. Everything is just attack, attack, attack.”
Another important improvement for UConn is taking care of the mid-majors on its schedule. A problem over the past few years (does Yale, Wagner and Northeastern ring a bell?), the Huskies are 4-0 against them this season, winning by an average of 20 points.
“When you have the better team, that’s what you’re supposed to do,” Hurley said. “I coached these guys so hard that it borderline ruined Thanksgiving for everybody. You need to keep on edge because there’s such a tendency to relax. We’ve done nothing in the last couple of years, done nothing this season, to warrant us overlooking anyone.”
UConn has another mid-major on Tuesday in UMass-Lowell before Arizona comes to Hartford next Sunday.
“We don’t even think about last year anymore,” Vital said. “We just know what we’re supposed to do and that’s to beat teams like this by a good amount so everyone can get in and have fun. It was a great team effort, everyone contributed.”
Keeping that balance is critical as the schedule gets tougher, especially in conference play. The Huskies have yet to win a regular season AAC crown since the conference began in 2013.
“We need to keep building our confidence as we go into the bigger games like Arizona, Villanova, and Florida State,” noted Adams. “You never know who we’ll need to step up and have a big night.”
The Huskies’ depth has been a strength and it will improve on Tuesday with Sidney Wilson slated to make his season debut. He sat out last season as a redshirt transfer and was suspended for an unspecified reason to start this campaign. How he fits in, though, remains to be seen.
“Listen, we didn’t stop this season waiting for Sid,” Hurley said. “He’s going to have to earn his minutes in practice.”
After seasons of uneven play, an erratic offense system, injury after injury, and a dark cloud hovering over the program, times are good at UConn right now. The team is fun to watch, nearly 100 percent healthy, and has a renewed attitude toward winning. That starts at the top with Hurley and his ability to connect with his players.
“Everyone is locked in,” Adams said. “We know what it takes to be a good team.”
After two painful years, they finally are.