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No. 15 UConn seeks return to early-season form vs. Butler

Jan 18, 2023; Newark, New Jersey, USA; Connecticut Huskies guard Hassan Diarra (5) dribbles as Seton Hall Pirates guard Al-Amir Dawes (2) defends during the second half at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

After matching the third-best start in program history, UConn saw its season take a turn for the worse.

The 15th-ranked Huskies have dropped five of their past six games since opening the season with 14 straight wins. They will look to escape their downward spiral when they clash with Butler on Sunday afternoon in Hartford, Conn.

UConn (15-5, 4-5 Big East) is coming off the most heartbreaking loss of its skid, falling 67-66 to Seton Hall on Wednesday. The Huskies squandered a 17-point lead, and the Pirates’ KC Ndefo hit a game-winning, put-back layup with 1.6 seconds remaining.

Adama Sanogo led UConn with 16 points, while Jordan Hawkins chipped in 13 points and six rebounds. Tristen Newton supplied 11 points to round out the Huskies’ double-figure scorers.

“We’re heartbroken,” Newton said. “Felt like we should’ve had that one. We were leading for 39 minutes and 20 seconds.”

With UConn head coach Dan Hurley and associate head coach Kimani Young sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19, assistants Luke Murray and Tom Moore found themselves in charge against the Pirates.

Should Hurley be symptom-free come Sunday, he would be cleared to resume his duties.

Regardless of who is calling the shots, Murray realizes that changes need to be made if the Huskies want to break out of their funk.

“They really had us running our offense much further away from the basket than we wanted to, and then we missed some opportunities around the rim, we missed a couple open looks,” Murray said. “I’ve got to do a better job of putting these guys in position to score because we’ve taken some tough losses.”

Things haven’t been much better for the Bulldogs (11-9, 3-6), who have dropped three of their past four games, including a 73-52 home loss to Creighton on Tuesday.

Outside of Simas Lukosius’ 18 points and Jalen Thomas’ 10, Butler had minimal offensive production, as no other Bulldog scored more than six points. Although Butler hit eight of its 14 3-point attempts, the team shot just 34.5 percent from the field as a team.

Poor shotmaking has suddenly become a recurring theme for the Bulldogs, who are averaging 60.8 points over the past four games and have shot under 35 percent from the floor in two of their past three losses.

“I thought we competed (Tuesday). At some point, you have to put the ball in the basket,” Butler coach Thad Matta said. “We missed a lot of shots at the rim that we normally make, and at critical times. Right now, we’re putting so much pressure on our defense.”

The Bulldogs’ defense has seemingly cracked under the challenge, though, with seven of Butler’s last eight opponents shooting at least 45 percent from the field. The only team to fall short of that mark (Georgetown) sits last in the Big East at 5-14 with an 0-8 record in conference play.

Sunday marks the seventh all-time meeting between the Bulldogs and UConn. The Huskies are 6-0, with their most victory coming on the road on Dec. 17 in a 68-46 game.

–Field Level Media

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