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Nov 30, 2023 11:00 am

Defending champ UConn seeks respect in top-5 clash at Kansas

UConn is the defending national champion, yet the Huskies have a major chip on their shoulders.

No. 4 UConn doesn’t feel it is receiving the proper respect for its accomplishments as it enters a heavyweight battle against No. 5 Kansas on Friday night at Lawrence, Kan.

UConn (7-0) will have a chance to make a major statement inside Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

“When you take the court, our team deserves the respect from everyone on the court that a national championship team deserves,” Huskies coach Dan Hurley said. “And we need to play up to the standard, too.”

The playing part hasn’t been a problem as UConn has won its first seven games by an average of 28.1 points.

And Monday’s 81-61 home victory over New Hampshire was the program’s record-setting 24th consecutive nonconference win by double digits, breaking the mark of 23 set by North Carolina (2008-09).

Hurley sees his club as ready for the big encounter.

“Where we’re at now, we’re playing against other programs that are vying to be at the top of the sport,” Hurley said. “We’re playing Kansas on the road, and both of us want to be the premier program in college basketball and now we meet on Friday night. So it’s kind of fun to be in big games like that.”

Kansas (6-1) is used to marquee matchups as a program that is annually one of the best in the sport. The Jayhawks’ lone loss this season was to then-No. 4 Marquette in the Maui Invitational semifinals on Nov. 21.

Perhaps Kansas was thinking ahead to the Huskies when it struggled to dispatch visiting Eastern Illinois 71-63 on Tuesday.

While Hunter Dickinson shined with 25 points and 13 rebounds, the Jayhawks were outrebounded 36-33 in a lethargic effort.

Coach Bill Self didn’t want to hear anything about looking ahead.

“I think if I say yes, that would be a (expletive) excuse,” Self said. “I think the natural thing to do is that. Also, I don’t think it’s Friday as much as it was looking back. We’ve been a tired team since we’ve been back (from Hawaii).

“But I think that trap game is not fair because that’s not giving Eastern Illinois enough credit for playing well. But it wasn’t the ideal game to play in the moment.”

Dickinson is making an early case for national player of the year honors by averaging 21.7 points and 12.7 rebounds and shooting 67.0 percent from the field.

Dickinson has topped 20 points on four occasions and collected 20 or more rebounds twice.

UConn big man Donovan Clingan, who scored a career-best 29 points on 12-of-13 shooting against New Hampshire, said he is ready for the battle with Dickinson.

“It was definitely a game circled on my calendar,” Clingan said. “That’s a big-time matchup. Hunter is a great big, one of the best in the country. I’ve got to give him that respect and I’ve got to go out there and do what I do and dominate.

“Friday’s gonna be a team game, it’s not a one-on-one performance.”

Self is looking for a better performance on the glass. On the offensive end, the Jayhawks are tied for 324th nationally with 7.71 per game.

“We haven’t rebounded the ball yet this year, except for Hunter,” Self said. “… We’re a very poor offensive rebounding team.”

Clingan ranks third on the Huskies in scoring at 15.0 points per game, trailing Cam Spencer (16.3) and Tristen Newton (15.6).

Kevin McCullar Jr. complements Dickinson well with averages of 18.1 points and 7.3 rebounds.

The Jayhawks have won all three meetings with UConn, including a 73-61 triumph in the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

–Field Level Media

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