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Jan. 18—The UConn men's basketball team is about to become very familiar with Butler, beginning when the two teams clash tonight in Hartford.
It's the first game in a rare home-and-home series, which will culminate Thursday in Indianapolis. The odd scheduling came as a result of an earlier COVID postponement, and it will mark the first time the Huskies have played the same opponent in consecutive games since 1996.
UConn coach Dan Hurley isn't overly thrilled with the back-to-back games, though he has some experience with the scenario.
"We did this in the NEC when I was at Wagner. We had rivalry week, I think it was called. You'd play on a Thursday and then a Saturday, Our rival was Mount St. Mary's," Hurley said Monday. "It was odd. I try not to think about it."
For Butler (9-7, 2-3 Big East), the Bulldogs may not want to think about their last game. Butler was plowed by Villanova 82-42 Sunday in Philadelphia.
That result doesn't necessarily define how good Butler is, of course, Hurley points out.
"This is a hard league. It's hard to go on the road and beat anybody, especially Villanova," Hurley said. "It's hard to win a home game against anybody, because this league is playing to one of the top-2 leagues in the country this year.
"Any time a team plays a game like they did in the last one, they're going to come in — you don't get to this level unless you have a lot of pride and competitiveness. None of us like being embarrassed. So we understand they're going to come in with that type of mentality so we've got to really come out and play our best game," Hurley added.
UConn (11-4, 2-2 Big East) has been idle since an 86-78 overtime win over St. John's Wednesday.
The Huskies are likely to continue riding the hot hand of center Adama Sanogo. The 6-foot-9 sophomore has 44 points and 34 rebounds in his last two games.
The Huskies had an unscheduled day off Saturday when its game against Providence was pushed back for COVID reasons. Well, it was an off-day from game competition, not basketball in general.
"It was good for us to get a couple days of practice, get a full squad on the court, be able to get Alex Karaban acclimated and in practice," Hurley said, referring to the recently arrived freshman forward. "Where maybe 10 days ago we had six guys in practice. Over the weekend we had 14 guys.
"So it's competitive practices. We look like a hungry team that's finally kind of healthy again and excited to attack the schedule here."
Sanogo earns league award
Sanogo was named the Big East Conference's player of the week Monday, thanks to his huge game against St. John's.
Sanogo has 26 points, 18 rebounds, and six blocked shots in the Huskies' 86-78 overtime win over the Red Storm. It was the highest rebound total by a player in the league this season.
Sanogo, who was left off the preseason all-Big East first and second teams, is averaging 15.9 points and 7.8 rebounds this season. This was the second time this season the league has honored him with its weekly player award.
"We're a different team when he's in there, at both ends of the court," Hurley said.
Return to the rankings
UConn returned to the Associated Press' rankings Monday, checking in at No. 25 in the weekly poll.
It's the Huskies first time among the nation's top 25 since Dec. 13.
UConn is one of four Big East teams in the rankings, joining No. 11 Villanova, No. 20 Xavier, and No. 21 Providence.
Gonzaga (14-2) is No. 1, followed closely by Auburn (16-1) at No. 2. The Tigers' only loss this season was a double-overtime setback to UConn.
Hurley, in part because the Providence game was pushed back, spent two days at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield to watch some of the top high school players do battle.
Among the participants was Bristol Central High and its standout center, Donovan Clingan. The 7-foot-1 Clingan is headed to UConn in the fall to play for Hurley.
"Nice to get out there and see Donovan play on Friday night, great to see the big fella," Hurley said. "To see what we've got there with him, all the abilities and skills, and what he has potential to become."
Of course, seeing a signed player wasn't Hurley's only goal. He was on hand, along with other members of his staff, to evaluate a number of prospects.
"We can't work off anyone's top-100 list, especially moving forward with the way kids are transferring out," Hurley said. "Our evaluations have got to be airtight. Our message when we recruit players has got to be honest about how their development will play out. And part of that process is seeing these kids."
Neill covers UConn men's basketball and UConn football teams, and he keeps a finger on the pulse of Connecticut sports. For live game updates, and more insight into UConn athletics, player transfers, and team changes, follow Neill on Twitter: @NeillOstrout, Facebook: JINeillO, and Instagram: @NeillOstrout.