Huskies in hostile territory: UConn readies for first 'real' road game in two years

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Dec. 8—MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The UConn men's basketball team hasn't been down this country road in quite some time. Actually, most of the Huskies have never been down any road like this.

No. 15 UConn is playing West Virginia as part of the Big East-Big 12 Battle tonight in what is likely to be a packed, raucous WVU Coliseum.

It's the Huskies' first true road game of the season. And given that COVID removed nearly all of the fans from their road games last season, it's the first time most of the UConn roster will see such an environment.

"It's like the first big road game for pretty much everyone not named Tyler (Polley) and Isaiah (Whaley) in a UConn uniform," UConn coach Dan Hurley said after the Huskies arrived late Tuesday night.

The last time UConn (8-1) played a road game in which the building was open to all came March 8, 2020 against Tulane. That game drew 1,897 fans, however, while today's could see as many as 14,000.

"Fun, exciting, just to think about the atmosphere and what it's like. It's been a while since we played in an environment like (today). The game definitely has an extra element to it," Hurley said.

The Huskies will play without wing Tyrese Martin and center Adama Sanogo as the duo recover from injuries. Among the players expected to pick up some of the slack for the absences is sophomore Andre Jackson. Jackson is among those Huskies who have never played a real road game in their college careers.

"I can't wait. I've been waiting on it for a while," Jackson said. "My first year it was COVID so I didn't get to play any true away games. Maybe the game at Xavier had a little bit of fans but this is definitely going to be something I haven't really experienced."

Few of the Huskies, idle since an 88-59 win over Grambling State Saturday in Storrs, have perhaps experienced the kind of pressure West Virginia (7-1) can put on opponents.

Coach Bob Huggins insists his current team isn't nearly like the "Press Virginia" teams he's had previously here, but there's little doubt the Mountaineers hope to turn the Huskies over plenty.

"We don't really play pressure. If you look at who we've played, if we were really good at pressure, then it wouldn't have been as close as what it's been," Huggins said.

West Virginia (7-1) is coming off a 67-51 win over Radford.

The Huskies average a rather reasonable 12.7 turnovers per game. But it has gone through a pair of games — it had 24 against Auburn and 22 against VCU — in which their turnovers came in bushels.

They certainly expect to face lots of pressure today.

"We spent a lot of time working on it, our spacing and different ways to attack it," Hurley said. "We have to be very organized and very fundamental verse pressure."

West Virginia forces its opponents into an average of 19.75 turnovers per game.

Jackson said he re-watched UConn's game against Auburn to give himself a few tips on what not to do when West Virginia presses.

"I seen a couple plays that I made and I was like '(Today) I have to take a different approach. I can't be turning the ball over because that's what they want,' " Jackson said.

Huskies healing quickly

The Huskies will be without two starters tonight but the absences of Martin and Sanogo won't be as extended as Hurley once feared. It's a longshot but one might even return this weekend.

The coach said the prognosis for both Martin (wrist) and Sanogo (abdomen) is much better than he originally thought.

"I think things are looking better that way for us. Without getting too optimistic, these guys are healing potentially on the shorter side of being out," Hurley said. "They just have to maintain the discipline and not try to get out there too soon and then extend it further. ... It's looking much better for both of those guys, Tyrese in particular."

The hard cast that Martin had been wearing is off, replaced by a splint. Hurley said he even was able to attempt some shots on Tuesday.

"He's pushing hard even for the weekend (against St. Bonaventure) and we're pushing back," Hurley said with a smile, adding that it's more likely Martin returns when the Huskies begin Big East play Dec. 18 against Providence.

Sanogo isn't likely to return by then, though there is hope that he could be back in the lineup by New Year's.

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.

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