UConn men head into hornet’s nest at Wichita State
Updated 8:08 am, Saturday, February 10, 2018
WICHITA, Kansas — What do you get when you cross a team that often wilts under the pressure of tough road games with a team that has lost two home games in the past five seasons?
Tune in to UConn’s bout with No. 22 Wichita State on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN2) to find out. If you dare.
The Huskies (12-12, 5-6 AAC) haven’t exactly been road warriors this season. They’re 1-6 in true road games and 2-9 in road or neutral-site games. Among those losses include setbacks of 35, 28, 25, 24, 20 and 15 points.
Now, they venture into one of the toughest places to play in the country — Koch Arena, a.k.a. “The Roundhouse.” Wichita State (18-5, 8-3 AAC) has won 69 of its last 71 games inside the building, though one of those losses came a few weeks ago to SMU.
It’s the first time UConn has played in the arena. All evidence would point to a long night for the Huskies, but coach Kevin Ollie is looking forward to the experience.
“Well, with eight new guys, everywhere we go is pretty much new,” Ollie noted. “But I think this will be fun for our guys. Especially our young guys have to get used to playing in hostile environments and this is probably going to be the most hostile environment that we’ve played in yet.”
Indeed, the term “Midwest nice” doesn’t apply to the Shocker faithful. They routinely sell the joint out and are known to be hostile, to say the least. Heck, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall’s wife was escorted out of a game last season for rowdy behavior.
“We have to make sure we concentrate, be locked in,” Ollie continued. “Every time you make a mistake against Wichita State, they make you pay for it, so we can’t have mistakes — mental mistakes or physical mistakes.”
There’s also this — UConn has lost its last 11 games to ranked foes, including Wichita State in the Shockers’ inaugural AAC game on Dec. 30 in Hartford.
Still, Wichita State — which was ranked No. 7 in the preseason and was No. 10 when it beat the Huskies at the XL Center — has had its struggles lately. The Shockers had lost three of their prior five games before handing Memphis a 20-point loss in Memphis on Tuesday.
UConn had dropped three straight and five of its prior six before squeaking by last-place South Florida at home on Wednesday by three points.
“They’ve gone thorugh their struggles, we’ve gone through our struggles,” said Marshall. “(Terry) Larrier is in and out of the lineup, which is very difficult for a head coach, not to know what’s going on there. We know we have to be prepared to guard them. They’re playing some zone and some man-to-man, so we’ll have to attack both of those. When they come in, we’ll try to be as prepared as we possibly can for a very talented team.”
Ollie hopes the Huskies can take something from the 10-point loss back on Dec. 30.
“I thought we kept them out of balance fairly well,” he noted. “They are a rhythm team, and I thought with our changing defenses - going to our five (man), to our zone, really kept them off-balance. But they still shot the ball pretty well - they made 12 threes. So, we have to get out there and find their shooters — (Landry) Shamet, (Conner) Frankcamp and one of the most improved players from our last game is (Austin) Reaves, he’s shooting at a high clip and coming off a great game in their last game against Memphis.”
It all seems to add up to a rough night for the Huskies. But who knows? After all, St. John’s was 0-11 in the Big East before pulling off back-to-back wins over No. 9 Duke and No. 1 Villanova (on the road) over the past week.