Viewpoint Huskies say bring it on
NEW YORK — With eight seconds remaining in one of those nights, that said — no, screamed — that UConn basketball was back, Dan Hurley turned his back on the court and faced the Madison Square Garden stands.
Hurley held up his hands and motioned with his fingers to bring it on.
Bring on the noise. Bring on the belief. Bring on the expectations.
So everybody from Bob Hurley Sr., his father and Hall of Fame coach, to his UConn assistants and players on the bench, to all the fans wearing national flag blue brought it. Yes, they brought it big-time.
The Huskies were ready for their first challenge under Hurley. They were ready for this. They were ready for the November snow, ready for the big city and ready for Jim Boeheim’s legendary 2-3 zone.
Hurley is a Jersey guy, from right across the tunnel from Manhattan. He knows this place. He isn’t afraid of this place. And neither was his team.
Eric Cobb, who was overweight and overwrought last year, lost 40 pounds during the offseason and gained plenty of double-double respect on this New York night. He had 13 points, 13 rebounds, and that 13 number would remind him how unlucky he would have been if he hadn’t decided to stick around from the transition from one coach to another.
Those fears that top players would jump ship when Kevin Ollie was fired? They have turned into thanks from those players that they have decided to set sail on the Good Ship Hurley.
“These guys have been through so much,” Hurley said. “They deserve a Garden moment like that.”
Jalen Adams, briefly suspended and challenged by Hurley only a few weeks ago to start acting like the best player on his team, raced to the bench when this 83-76 victory over Syracuse had ended. He started chest-pumping and -slapping with his coach. The two kept at it until they realized they better stop before somebody got hurt.
“We all got the right mind-set,” said Adams, whose 16 points along with Alterique Gilbert’s 16 led UConn. “Everything we do is to win, off the court or on the court. Once you’ve got a whole group of players and coaching staff that’s all connected with one common goal, it’s a whole different energy, a whole different vibe.
“I think it’s perfect timing. With the adversity this basketball team faced and having a great coach coming in to lead us is perfect timing and a perfect match. His personality connects perfect with a lot of our personalities.”
The Huskies are a ball of energy right now. They are a ball of confidence. The same guys who played like losers last year are playing like winners this early season.
It’s too early to say the guys who played like chumps last year are champions now. Far too early.
Yet in their first date with serious basketball under Hurley they hit 12 of 26 3s. They outrebounded Syracuse 46-32. Yes, they turned the ball over 20 times and got into first-half foul trouble and, yes, there is much work to be done. But already this is team is snappin’, cracklin’ and poppin’ with energy.
Those same guards who passed, passed, passed, panicked and chucked up desperation perimeter shots last year hit those dozen 3s.
“I’m kind of flowing off my coach’s energy,” Adams said, “Maturity, I think that’s the main thing. And that confidence, that edge. My freshman year, you’d never see me shoot from NBA line. Even if I’m 0-5 he gives me crazy confidence. That belief from the head coach, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
The Huskies played defense with a snarl, rattled the Orange guards early. They met Syracuse baskets with transition assaults to the hoop. Instead of rotating, rotating, rotating as the Syracuse zone expanded from Queens to Jersey, they worked inside out and got open perimeter shots.
“We wanted to get the ball down the court really quickly before they got the zone set off makes and makes — we did that,” Hurley said. “We were stagnant very little during the course of the game. These guys were living in the paint and spraying passes out to the 3-point line, toes to the line, as opposed to shooting the ball-reversal 3s. They made great plays. Twenty-two assists against that zone is extraordinary.”
Yes, they met every scent of adversity with an impassioned answer.
They didn’t play scared. They didn’t play stupid. They played hard.
And there were moments. Oh, there were moments.
After Tyus Battle hit a 3 to slice the UConn lead to four, Gilbert, who couldn’t stop his shoulder from popping out of place for two years, shouldered the burden. He hit a long, long, long-range 3 with 2:26 left to push it to seven points.
“Cold-blooded,” Adams said.
“First of all, I’d like to thank my surgeon,” joked Gilbert of his repaired shoulder.
Yeah, they had their moments.
Cobb certainly had his. After being asked to leave South Carolina for what certainly would be classified as immature behavior, he paid his junior college dues. He transferred to UConn, got into a shouting match with Ollie on the bench and found himself on the outside looking in last year. Hurley gave him a chance.
The rewards would come Thursday night.
There he was hitting a baby hook. There he was getting put-backs, a nice reverse layup. There he was drawing an offensive foul and as he lay there, there was Adams playfully punching his belly in celebration. And, yes, there he was hitting only the third 3-pointer of his UConn career. He ran down the court, arms extended, tongue wagging.
“You saw it,” Cobb said. “It felt good.”
“Eric is a very skilled guy,” Hurley said. “He’s a guy who can really catapult this year into some real things professional. He certainly looked the part tonight.”
Yes, he did. So did a lot of Huskies.
“It’s a step forward from last year,” Cobb said. “We’re trying to get the program back to where it used to be.”
Look, they are 3-0 and not 15-0. They beat a No. 15 team. Yet it would also be lying to say this didn’t have a great first-date feel to it. You know, one kiss and after the door closes and nobody’s watching, you raise your arms and yell “Yes!”
Connecticut’s bromance with Dan Hurley is sky-high today.
“This is just a beginning for us,” he said.
Yes, it’s a new season. It’s a new day.