“We are here to play basketball”

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – UConn’s men and members of seven other college basketball teams made their way to the massive Atlantis complex on Tuesday, passing each other in hotel lobbies, passing aquariums and swimming pools – it is all part of the unique setting for a high value basketball tournament.

It was a day of transition, with UConn’s women’s coach Geno Auriemma hitting the golf course and many of her players swimming with the dolphins, their jobs here having come and gone. There is a flight to board on Wednesday.

Dan Hurley and his players, who arrived Monday night, are at the start of their Thanksgiving week basketball game. The 22nd-ranked Huskies face No.19 Auburn on Wednesday at Imperial Arena, the first of their three games in three days. UConn is 4-0 and feels pretty good about what he’s achieved so far against outclassed teams he should have beaten hands down.

Now they are the first significant challenges and opportunities of the 2021-22 season.

“These games are important in terms of what you’re trying to do in the long run to find out more about your team and where your blind spots are,” Hurley said. “The level of competition will increase considerably here. And the areas where we need to improve will be exposed this weekend. And then we’ll play like 22 other games like these when we come back to the United States – 20 Big East games, then two more high profile games against West Virginia and [St. Bonaventure]. “

The season has started in earnest, that’s the feeling now. No more ramping up. No more need to relax in anything. At Auburn (3-0), UConn faces a team that feels just as talented, just as tough, just as athletic. The winner will face the winner of Michigan State and Loyola Chicago on Thursday.

“These guys have some free time, maybe could add a few slides or something, go around the artificial river,” said Hurley. “And then we will close. “

Playmaker RJ Cole said: “We’re coming in 4-0 and on the momentum we’ve created. Now we have the option to speed up a bit and play a tougher competition and I think we’re ready for that. So I’m happy.

UConn trained for two hours on Tuesday, dividing that block of time between the Imperial Arena, where matches are held, and a ballroom a few hundred paces away.

The Battle 4 Atlantis, in its 10th year, is high-profile college basketball with a certain feel and a lot to get used to. There are vacations that are going to be a day of play and about 1,200 daily distractions at this glitzy and expensive resort 1,200 miles from your home.

“It’s a beautiful place,” said first-year guard Jordan Hawkins, who had 11 points on a 5-on-8 shot against Binghamton. “It’s my first time out of the country, actually.

Hurley wants players to enjoy the trip and the unique environment, especially freshmen and sophomores who have been deprived of experiences such as high school and freshman due to COVID. Still, UConn is trying to prepare for Auburn’s game the same way he would prepare for a game at Hartford or Storrs.

“At the end of the day, it’s a business trip,” said goaltender Andre Jackson. “We are here to play basketball. So I’m not too focused on water slides or anything like that. I’m more focused on trying to beat Auburn. They play really hard. They are really athletic. They can match us at this level. It’s going to be a very good game. The two are really tough teams. A fun game to watch, really intense. I really want to challenge us as much as possible and it’s a very good team with top players. It’s good to see how you go up against teams like this.

UConn looked sharp as they took out Central Connecticut, Coppin State, Long Island and, for the most part, Binghamton – although Hurley was frustrated with that performance, especially the defense.

“I’m still on edge,” said Hurley. “I always think we’re going to lose no matter who we play. I think that keeps my teams always on the lookout because I don’t take any game for granted. I saw a lot of things in the way we played on Saturday that are going to wipe out our chances of winning if we do it again.

Auburn is led by second-year guard Wendell Green Jr. (11.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3 assists) and first-year forward Jabari Smith (13.3 points, nine rebounds). Reserve guard KD Johnson, a sophomore, leads the Tigers with 15 points per game.

“Incredible positional size, potential among the top five picks, top three picks,” said Hurley. “You know, just all types of height and athleticism before. And we’ve been talking, you know, we’ve got eight starters, or we love our nine-man rotation. I mean, they’re deep and kick off the bench. someone like Johnson who is as good as anyone on the pitch. They are a team that I think can do a deep, deep run. They are very deep in every position with quality. So, we look like you’re playing against a team that can potentially make an Elite Eight or a Final Four. ”

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl is impressed with UConn, citing an attack that cuts through the interior and is complemented by athletic perimeter players. He’s particularly impressed with Adama Sanogo, who is averaging 15.8 points and 6.3 rebounds.

“Its improvement,” Pearl said. “We loved him in high school too. We recruited him a bit, got to know him. I am happy with its success.

Tigers forward Walker Kessler said: “They are an extremely physical team, an older team, so obviously getting on the glass is going to be huge for us, just hitting them first is probably the main thing for us. . … [Sanogo] is very skillful, physical, uses his body well. You have to respect him and he’s good, but just play loud and well.

Sanogo collected 20 points in each of the first two games. He had 11 against LIU and 12 against Binghamton.

“He’s going to have to play a big game for us to win,” said Hurley. “Your best players have to play well to win games like this. You all-conference level players need to play all-conference basketball and we need to get contributions at all levels. And we’re going to have to be incredibly tough because they played so hard. The way they play negates the advantage we have over most teams in that we are one of the hardest working teams in the country.

[email protected]; @ManthonyHearst


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