UConn and Marquette men’s basketball teams head in opposite directions entering Tuesday’s tilt

STORRS — When the UConn men’s basketball team last faced Marquette on Dec. 21, all seemed well in the world of the Huskies.

UConn picked up a 78-70 road win at the Fiserv Forum behind a career-high 25 points from Tyrese Martin. A well-deserved Christmas break awaited the Huskies, who were 10-3 overall at the time.

On the other hand, Marquette, who discovered shortly before the game that possibly his best overall player, Darryl Morsell, was unable to play due to COVID-19, lost his third in what would be a four game losing streak. The Shaka Smart Era didn’t start well in Milwaukee.

What a difference six weeks makes.

Marquette is one of the hottest teams in the country as it hits Hartford on Tuesday for a rematch with the Huskies at XL Center (6:30 p.m., FS1). The Golden Eagles have won eight of their last nine games, with their only loss coming to Big East favorite Providence. Among those eight wins are two against Villanova, the first time a team has swept a season streak from the Wildcats in five years.

“They’re more consistent,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said of the Golden Eagles. “Shaka did an incredible job. They are better defensively than when we first saw them. They also have a great vibe right now. They exceeded expectations for the season. Everyone is feeling good right now for their team.

Meanwhile, all does not seem right in the world of UConn. An 11-point loss on Saturday to that same Villanova team (which was without its second-leading scorer the entire game and its leading scorer for much of the second half) was the Huskies’ second straight loss and took them clinging to No 24 in this week’s AP Top 25.

In fact, UConn (15-6, 6-4 Big East) and Marquette (16-7, 8-4) pretty much traded places in the rankings a week ago – UConn from No. 17 to No. 24, Marquette from No. 24 to 18.

“When a team is hot, they obviously carry a different kind of swagger than when we first faced them,” said senior winger Tyrese Martin. “They’re going to come with a lot of energy and things like that, but we’ve just suffered two defeats. We are the grumpy team, we have to get through this. We have to bring something to overcome this.

A home loss to unranked Creighton a week ago preceded Villanova’s loss, but in truth, UConn’s recent struggles go back further than that. The Huskies (who took a COVID break and had to postpone their next two games after the Marquette win) squandered a 10-point lead with 61/2 minutes left and needed a lucky rebound and overtime to beat St. John’s at home on January 12.

Convincing victories over Butler (twice) and lowly Georgetown followed, but a nasty 57-50 win at DePaul on Jan. 29 was perhaps a real harbinger of things to come. UConn shot just 37 percent from the floor and 2 for 15 of 3 in that one, saved by a 25-point effort from RJ Cole. Nobody could save the Huskies against Creighton, when they shot 29.9%.

It was more masonry in the first half on Saturday against Villanova, and although the Huskies ended up shooting 50% for the game, a 23-point second-half deficit was too much to overcome.

Ultimately, Hurley wants the Huskies to regain their identity of defense, rebounding and overall toughness.

“When we’re at our best, we’re a team our opponents aren’t keen on playing against, because of the defense, the rebounds, the physicality, the athleticism,” he said. declared. “The last two games, it hasn’t been there. This edge, this tenacity, the aggressiveness, the passion. We’ve searched the past two days to find that nervousness and tenacity that at times has made us an intimidating team to play.

Hurley added that the team’s confidence was down and they needed to regain confidence and swagger – chest pounding after a big basket, flexing towards the crowd after a big blocked shot.

“I feel like most of it is probably up to me,” Martin confessed, “because I’ve probably been more the guy who sets the tone, makes those plays, interacts with the crowd, flexes, stuff like that. It probably wasn’t there on my part.

Indeed, according to Hurley, it will take the Huskies’ “best players” to get them out of their rut.

“RJ (Cole), Adama (Sanogo), Tyrese – they have to lead the way,” he said.

There is another element that could help UConn on Tuesday night, according to Hurley.

“We need a large audience. We need a loud crowd. We’re not playing as well as we’d like to be playing right now, but we’re a Top 25 program, we can’t have 7 or 8,000 people in the game – actually through the turnstiles, 7 or 8,000. We have to have a large crowd. We are a big program, we have to have a big crowd.

RIM PAWLS

Akok Akok (sprained foot) wore a walking boot on Monday and has not trained since late last week. Hurley said the 6-foot-9 junior forward was “unlikely” to play on Tuesday.

david.borges@hearstmediact.com

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