UConn men’s basketball will honor seniors then clash with a bruising No. 20 Providence led by Bryce Hopkins, Devin Carter
Joey Calcaterra, Nahiem Alleyne and Tristen Newton arrived for their first year as UConn men’s basketball players looking forward to winning games. Immediately they were thrown into the intensity that is Dan Hurley’s practices. It wasn’t long before they were each playing a significant role on the No. 2 team in the country.
On Wednesday, in front of a sold out Gampel Pavilion for the last time this season, UConn will honor the three transfers, as well as redshirt junior Richie Springs, before its highly anticipated matchup with Big East Player of the Year candidate Bryce Hopkins and 20th-ranked Providence.
“To be in a position that we’ve been in, to have played ranked as long as we’ve played and to have won the amount of games we’ve won and have the resume we’ve had with guys that just had to hit the ground running at obviously a place with very high standards, it’s a unique experience to play here,” head coach Dan Hurley said.
Calcaterra, who played four seasons at San Diego before transferring, is the only of the three who will have exhausted his final year of eligibility after this season. Springs, Alleyne and Newton each have an extra year of eligibility thanks to the pandemic. Four-year team manager Nick DeMarco will also be recognized.
When the three graduating transfers first made their visits, Hurley didn’t sugarcoat anything. They saw the intensity of the practices and had roles defined pretty quickly. Nothing changed after they committed.
“I just saw how much Coach was gonna get out of each of his players,” said Calcaterra, who is averaging 5.5 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 14.4 minutes per game this season. “Coming here I just knew that I was going to be able to maximize my potential and they were gonna push me to my limits to try to get me ready for the season and for the future.”
Hurley spent his summer preparing his group of new additions for the intensity of the Big East, which will be at its height once the Senior Night festivities calm down and the ball is tipped. That quickly, any nostalgic feelings from a season of development and change will be stashed to the side.
“All in all, I feel like I’m still developing the way I want to develop here,” Alleyne said. “Coach Hurley is still a great coach, I love him to death. He just continues to bring the best out of me. He’s always saying, ‘We need you to keep going.’ So, the season’s not over yet.”
Including Wednesday’s game, UConn has four games before the conference tournament begins – two on the road at St. John’s and Villanova and one more at the XL Center against DePaul.
Wednesday will be the first time UConn plays Providence as a ranked opponent since 1989. The last time the two teams played in front of fans at Gampel Pavilion was the March 9, 2013 season finale in Kevin Ollie’s first year as head coach. The Huskies won, 63-59 in overtime.
No free buckets: When UConn made its trip to Providence in January, Hopkins, the Friars’ 6-foot-7 forward, dominated. He scored 27 points at will with five rebounds and a block. With Alex Karaban struggling to stop his relentless driving to the basket, Hopkins scored 13 of his points via 15 attempts at the free throw line. Four UConn players had four fouls by the end of the game and the Huskies had only taken 19 free throws (making just 10) as opposed to Providence’s 29-for-35.
“It’s hard to win when you’re minus 19 at the free throw line,” Hurley said “We’re doing less fouling, we’re playing with more discipline. But [Hopkins] is an outstanding player, he’s played great. He’s right up there for player of the year , so it’s tough.”
UConn has held six of its last seven opponents to 20 or fewer free throw attempts, and under 45% shooting on field goals.
“We’ve defended much better recently,” Hurley said. “We went through a stretch there where we weren’t guarding and our defensive efficiency and all of our numbers really dropped significantly and they’re climbing again.”
Freedom of movement: Hurley has commented on the way teams have defended his shooter, Jordan Hawkins, on the perimeter – pushing and pulling as he looks for creative ways to get open. Facing Devin Carter, Hawkins will have his work cut out for him.
“He’s one of the best defensive players in the country,” Hurley said. “Jordan’s gonna have to be on – hope the referees let him have a little freedom of movement in that one, because [Carter] is a great defender. He’s an NBA guard ... I mean, Ed [Cooley] hit big with those two guys, Hopkins and Carter.”
Carter is the likely frontrunner for the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Year recognition, averaging 1.7 steals and 1.1 block per game in addition to his 13.4 points, five rebounds and 2.4 assists.
Hurley’s message to the fans: “Thanks to the fans for the support this year and the attendance throughout the year, man. Thank you. I don’t tweet much or go on social media much, but thanks to the fans. To play your last game at Gampel, it’s crazy how fast the season’s gone but the fan support has been awesome. They’ve been awesome with this team the whole year and we hope we give them a great last couple of games in these home venues. But thanks to the fans, crowds we haven’t had in years here.”
What to know
Site: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Series: UConn leads, 45-31
Last meeting: Jan. 4, 2023 – Providence 73, UConn 61 at Amica Mutual Pavilion
Last UConn win: Feb. 16, 2021 – UConn 73, Providence 61 at Gampel Pavilion
TV: FS1, Tim Brando and Donny Marshall
Radio: UConn Sports Network on 97.9 ESPN, Mike Crispino and Wayne Norman