UConn braces for No. 23 Wichita State

NCAA Basketball
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UConn braces for No. 23 Wichita State

No. 23 Wichita State seeks its ninth consecutive win to extend its perfect start in American Athletic Conference play on Sunday when it travels to Hartford’s XL Center to face Connecticut.

Wichita State (14-1, 2-0 American) is coming off an impressive and emotional win Thursday at home over Memphis. The Shockers led the Top 25 matchup wire to wire, opening the game with a 17-4 burst, but needed to hold off the Tigers down the stretch.

The victory was one Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall characterized as indicative of a hard-nosed mindset within the program.

“We don’t have as many top-100 players or McDonald’s All-Americans and (NBA Draft) lottery picks (as Memphis does), but we do have 13 very talented players and I feel confident going all the way down through our scholarship players — one-through-13,” Marshall said in his postgame press conference following Thursday’s win. “They can all help us win, and they helped us win.”

Wichita State’s depth indeed played a key role, with eight different Shockers scoring between six and 16 points. Such has been the team’s MO throughout the 2019-20 season, as eight players post between 6.2 and Erik Stevenson’s team-leading 13.9 points per game.

Among that group is Dexter Dennis, a talented wing who against Memphis played just his second game back from a head injury sustained in December. Dennis came off the bench Thursday to grab a team-high eight rebounds, four of which were offensive.

The Shockers’ 18 total offensive rebounds played a key part in the win against a Memphis team featuring outstanding rebounder Precious Achiuwa. The offensive glass could again be a factor Sunday against a Connecticut team allowing opponents offensive rebounds on 29.3 percent of opportunities, per KenPom.com.

The Huskies (10-5, 1-2) have been through an up-and-down campaign thus far. A defense that ranks No. 49 nationally in adjusted efficiency has buoyed Connecticut at times, led by shot-blocking standout Akok Akok. His 3.1 blocks per game paces a defense that leads the nation in percentage of shots blocked.

Offensively, however, the Huskies have sputtered. Their 67-61 win Wednesday over Tulane got the Huskies off the schneid in conference play, but marked the fourth consecutive game in which they failed to reach 70 points.

“It wasn’t pretty on the offensive end, probably not going to be pretty for the rest of this year as the program continues to grow and mature and add talent and rebuild this thing,” Connecticut coach Dan Hurley said in his postgame press conference following Wednesday’s win. “But you can give yourself a chance to win a lot of games when you show up defensively and you play with toughness.”

On the season, Connecticut has fallen short of scoring 70 points eight times.

Tyler Polley coming off a double-double with 11 rebounds and a career-high 19 points on Wednesday might be a building block for the Huskies to improve their scoring production. Points come at a premium against Wichita State, however.

The Shockers rank No. 17 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency and have held opponents to 42.6 percent shooting from inside the 3-point arc. Should Sunday’s matchup at Connecticut’s home turn into a defensive slugfest, Wichita State welcomes it.

“We were all good with playing ugly, beating people up, getting beat up and taking the hit. So that’s how it goes,” said Stevenson following Thursday’s game.

–Field Level Media

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