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Huskies open their Big East schedule

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published January 01. 2013 4:00AM

Off to an impressive start, UConn isn't about to settle in and get as comfortable as a warm fire on a frigid winter day.

The Huskies (10-2) have a burning desire to sustain their success as they begin Big East Conference play tonight (8 p.m.) against Marquette at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

It also will be their first true game this season.

"We want to continue to build on this momentum going into the Big East, knowing it's going to be a challenge each and every game," coach Kevin Ollie said. "But we're focused. … "I'm happy with 10 and two, but I'm not satisfied.

"I think we can give a lot more, and I'm going to push the guys and will them to give a lot more."

Since they're ineligible to compete in the postseason, including the Big East tournament, their goal is to contend for the league regular-season title.

Consider them long shots to accomplish that feat.

The Huskies were picked to finish ninth in the conference preseason poll. On top of that, they haven't had a winning conference record since 2008-09, going a combined 24-30 in the last three seasons.

"Winning the Big East, to me, is like winning a national tournament, it's so tough," junior Shabazz Napier said. "Any given night you can lose. … Any team can have that spark that night. We just want to try to win as many games as we can and hopefully be in the race for the Big East championship."

The Huskies should know if their title contending hopes are realistic in a few weeks. Three of their first five games are on the road and they face two top 25 teams in No. 21 Notre Dame and No. 4 Louisville, the preseason pick to win the conference.

Marquette (9-3) fits into the middle of the pack category.

Picked to place seventh in the preseason poll, Marquette's style is similar to UConn's, as it also relies on a three-guard attack. Both teams score (UConn 70.7, Marquette 70.4) and allow (UConn 61.7, Marquette 61.5) about the same amount of points per game.

Marquette will be without head coach Buzz Williams who is serving a school-imposed one-game suspension for recruiting violations. He's concerned about the speed of the Huskies.

"They pressure you defensively, and put pressure on you offensively because of their speed…," Williams said. "We'll have our hands full, but we can't make it into a track meet because we'll lose. We have to handle their speed.

"We have to make them guard us inside, have a presence in the paint."

UConn showed an improvement in the rebounding department in Saturday's 61-53 win over Washington. The Huskies displayed some developing toughness while out-rebounding an opponent for only the second time this season.

Survival in the bruising Big East always depends in part on playing a physical brand of basketball.

"The Big East is a tough conference," Napier said. "I don't think we're going to sit back and allow teams to beat us up. The Big East is physical. We're not going to get some calls that we normally get. That's what I love about the Big East, it gets you tough, mentally tough.

"We're going to go out there and try to do our best to rebound and just stay mentally and physically tough."

Tonight will be a Big East baptism for four Huskies - R.J. Evans, Omar Calhoun, Leon Tolksdorf and Phil Nolan, a freshman reserve from Milwaukee where he attended Riverside University High School.

Sophomore Ryan Boatright has tried to tell them what the Big East is all about. But there's no substitute for first-hand experience.

"You really can't explain the Big East," Boatright said. "You've got to get your own taste of it. We try to let them know what we can to get them as well prepared as we can. We just tell them that it's extremely physical. … Every game is tough, from the top of the Big East to the bottom of the Big East."

g.keefe@theday.com

 

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UCONN at MARQUETTE

Location: Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI.

Tip-off time: 8 p.m. (ESPNU)

Records: UConn 10-2, Marquette 9-3

Last game: UConn beat Washington, 61-53, Saturday; Marquette defeated North Carolina Central, 75-66, Saturday

Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 jr. guard Shabazz Napier (16.5 pts, 3.8 assists), 6-0 so. guard Ryan Boatright (15.8 pts, 4.6 assists), 6-5 fr. guard Omar Calhoun (11.2 pts, 3.4 rebs), 6-8 so. forward DeAndre Daniels (10.0 pts, 4.3 rebs), 6-9 jr. forward Tyler Olander (4.3 pts, 3.8 rebs)

Marquette, 6-1 sr. guard Junior Cadougan (9.5 pts, 4.6 assists), 6-4 jr. guard Vander Blue (13.4 pts), 6-5 sr. guard Trent Lockett (7.5 pts, 4.6 rebs), 6-6 sr. forward Juan Anderson (3.7 pts, 3.1 rebs), 6-11 sr. center Chris Otule (4.8 pts, 3.2 rebs).

Noteworthy, Big East opener for both teams. … Huskies 16-17, including 9-10 on the road, in league openers. … In league preseason poll, UConn picked ninth, Marquette seventh. … Huskies won four straight. Golden Eagles won four of five. … Marquette head coach Buzz Williams (out) serving a one-game suspension. … Series history: UConn trails, 5-3, losing last season (79-64) in Hartford. Huskies 2-1 at Bradley Center. … Homecoming game for freshman Phil Nolan of Milwaukee. … Top reserve: forward Davante Gardner (12.5 pts, 5.0 rebs). … UConn leads Big East in FT percentage at 74.1, Marquette third at 72.5. … Golden Eagles won 16 straight at home. … Hot: In last three games, Calhoun averaging 17.7 points and shooting 64.5 percent. Cold: UConn ranked last in Big East in rebound margin and rebounding offense. … Up next: UConn hosts DePaul Jan. 8 in Storrs.

- Gavin Keefe

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