STORRS - One of the best parts of living in Connecticut during the winter returned this week. No, not the half-foot of snow that fell on the state today: UConn basketball is back.
Coach Dan Hurley’s men’s basketball team, finally through with a COVID pause that kept them off the court for 10 days and away from game competition for 17 days, will indeed face No. 24 Seton Hall Saturday in Newark, New Jersey.
“It feels great to be back doing what a lot of people need us to do. We’ve got some incredible fans that get so much joy out of watching us play and going through the season with us, the ups and the downs,” Hurley said after practice Thursday in Gampel Pavilion. “It feels great to be back for our fans, to give them a much-needed distraction during the winter.”
UConn has not played a game since Dec. 21, watching as games against Xavier and Butler were pushed back because of the positive COVID tests in the Huskies’ program.
UConn senior Tyrese Martin, who scored a career-high 25 points against Marquette in the Huskies’ most recent game, is among those glad to finally see some light at the end of the tunnel.
“It’s been terrible. We finally get to play basketball again fully with our team,” Martin said.
The Huskies (10-3, 1-1 Big East) might not have a full complement of players at their disposal for Saturday’s game, though it should be close. Hurley said last week that nine of his players tested positive for COVID or exhibited symptoms.
“We could be close to having nearly everybody but people that we were starters maybe are limited,” Hurley said.
The Huskies returned to practice Monday, though that was only six or seven healthy scholarship players, Hurley said. The Huskies had “double figure” players at practice Thursday, the coach said, though center Adama Sanogo was limited in the workout by an injury unrelated to COVID.
Sanogo pulled a hamstring late in the win over Marquette Dec. 21, Hurley said, and his status for Saturday’s game is somewhat questionable.
The coach is confident of one thing, however. He believes his team will not have any more games postponed.
“We expect to play every game moving forward the rest of the way,” Hurley said, noting that some of his players received COVID booster shots this week. “I’ve got pretty good confidence that we’re going to be able to play this out.”
Point guard R.J. Cole admits the time off was difficult for the Huskies.
“I had COVID so I was out in isolation. It was tough,” Cole said. “I was around some of my teammates but just being away from basketball was tough. Now having to come back and ramp it up a little bit, it’s been tough.”
Martin said he was not among those players who tested positive and he was able to do some individual workouts with a couple of the assistant coaches.
Now that nearly all the players have returned to action, Hurley says it doesn’t matter which category they fall into, they all need extra work to get back up to speed.
“They’re all in the same situation with this here. The guys that had COVID had it worse because they literally had no access to any type of basketball for that 10-day period. They couldn’t get skill work in, they couldn’t get any cardio in. They were pretty much eliminated completely from doing anything,” Hurley said. “The six guys that didn’t have it had some type of an advantage that way, but they couldn’t play basketball.”
BUTLER GAME RESCHEDULED
The Huskies will get quite familiar with Butler at the end of this month.
The Huskies’ New Year’s Day game against the Bulldogs that was wiped out by COVID issues in the UConn program has been rescheduled for Jan. 18, the Big East announced Thursday.
UConn was already scheduled to play Butler Jan. 20. So the teams will meet in Hartford Jan. 18, a game that will start at 7 p.m. and be seen on FS1, then will face off two days later in Indianapolis.
UConn officials said fans can use their original tickets for the rescheduled Butler game at the XL Center.
Assuming there are no more COVID interruptions, this will be the first time UConn has played the same opponent in consecutive games since the end of the 1995-96 season.
The Huskies beat Seton Hall in their regular season finale March 2, 1996, then beat the Pirates again five days later in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.
The latter game also was the final game in the college playing career of then-Seton Hall point guard Dan Hurley.
The last time UConn played consecutive regular season games against the same opponent came Feb. 12 and Feb. 19, 1992, when it lost to Georgetown twice.