College Hoops

UConn men set to open NCAA play vs. No. 13 seed Iona

UConn men set to open NCAA play vs. No. 13 seed Iona

ALBANY – The UConn men’s basketball team walked out to the court at MVP Arena where the Huskies will meet Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino and Iona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday at 4:30 p.m.

The players, relaxed and joking around, walked past the cheerleaders, the Husky mascot and the band and had a relaxed open shootaround in front of fans.

When the buzzer sounded and time was up the team gathered on the March Madness logo at center court and posed for pictures. Walking off the court, Jordan Hawkins, Andre Jackson, Joey Calcaterra and others stayed to take pictures and sign autographs for kids. Jackson met with some of his family.

“We’re really trying to enjoy the moment we’re in right now, we’ve worked hard for this moment,” forward Alex Karaban said. “Coach made it clear it’s hard to make it to March Madness, so we’ve got to enjoy it and take it all in – and when it’s game time, just show up and be ready to play.”

Hurley’s cardboard national championship trophy sat on an easel courtside representing the end goal. But first, UConn has to get past the pressing Gaels.

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“Coach has been talking about respecting our opponent every time we step on the court, so not to take them lightly,” Karaban said. “We know they’re a great team from scouting them. They won the MAAC, so we know we’ll be in for a test. We’ve just got to go out there and play our style of basketball. We’re going to be excited about playing in March Madness, so that should get us going.”

Iona enters the game having won 14 straight to finish its season. The Gaels are known for their full-court press defense and have two guards that can score in Walter Clayton Jr. and Daniss Jenkins, as well as a 6-foot-9 forward averaging a near double-double in Nelly Junior Joseph.

UConn, one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation, presents a glaring problem for Pitino’s squad, despite the fact that the Gaels have a 7-footer at the forward position in freshman Osborn Shema.

“We’re trying to rebound as good as they do,” Jenkins said. “[UConn] rebounds very well. We try to do that part. As far as some of the other things, we’re kind of similar. We like to shoot threes. They will play fast with you, they will pressure you – so some of those things are similar to our style of play.”

The Huskies are nine-point favorites on Friday,…

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