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STORRS - Dan Hurley is in somewhat of an enviable position for a college basketball coach. His UConn team was victorious in its season opener but the second-year head coach also received a number of teaching points for his Huskies to ponder in practice.
Now, would Hurley and many UConn fans perhaps preferred a true blowout from start-to-finish with near perfect execution? Of course.
But the Husky coaching staff is certainly in a more desirable position than the staffs of teams who are coming off losses with those same teaching points.
UConn claimed an 89-67 win over Sacred Heart Friday night, one in which senior guard Christian Vital had 17 points, seven rebounds, seven steals and three assists.
But nearly every other player on the UConn roster who entered the game, save perhaps sophomore guard Brendan Adams, drew some small rebuke from Hurley.
For starters, Hurley expected his team to simply be more excited to play. He wanted them “a lot more emotional, a lot more joyful.”
And that would have led to a slightly different result, he believes.
“The game should have been a lot more lopsided,” Hurley said.
The Huskies (1-0) have a relatively busy week ahead. They host St. Joseph’s on Wednesday night at Gampel Pavilion, are back in the building on Sunday with No. 6 Florida - a 63-51 upset victim of Florida State on Sunday.
There are a few players Hurley would obviously like to see step their games up this week and moving forward.
Center Josh Carlton, who did have 18 points and eight rebounds against the Pioneers, is perhaps chief among them. The 6-foot-9 junior didn’t play poorly, but he wasn’t at a level Hurley wanted either.
“I have a higher standard, a higher bar for him than that,” Hurley said. “I thought he should have had 26 (points) and 12 (rebounds) tonight. I thought he should have been a little more dominant.”
Junior Tyler Polley was similarly chastised. Polley had 10 points and four rebounds, but those totals and his overall play in 31 minutes weren’t up to snuff it seems.
“I was disappointed in Tyler’s game. I thought it was a little bit too much last-year-ish,” Hurley said. “He’s got to be better for us if we’re going to change the cycle of the last couple years here.”
Sophomore Sidney Wilson also underperformed a bit in the Huskies’ opener. The high-flying forward did have an impressive tip-dunk and a few mid-range jumpers to collect 13 points in just 17 minutes of action.
But Wilson’s offensive abilities and production are rarely in question by Hurley. It’s the St. John’s transfer’s defense that usually has the coach pulling out what’s left of his hair.
“Sid had some highlight plays but there were a lot of in-between plays from a coaching standpoint that the casual observer of a game didn’t see that he’s got to do a lot better. Just back-breaking plays, loose ball first half that he’s in a position to get and turn into a runout dunk, and he doesn’t go after the ball and then they hit a corner three,” Hurley said.
“If Sid could give us everything he’s got, he’ll play more than 17 minutes and he can really help the team,” Hurley added.
If wasn’t all bad for the Huskies in the opener, of course. It was a victory, and Vital’s effort was something Hurley can certainly build on.
Vital started slowly and still took one or two more deep 3-pointers than Hurley might have liked, but the majority of his decisions on the court were good ones.
“With Christian, it’s like 85 percent you love everything he brings. The 15 percent is where we butt heads. Hopefully we can get to 12 percent by December, 10 percent by January, eight percent by February,” Hurley said with a chuckle.
Both Hurley and Vital have talked extensively about their relationship during the offseason. Vital laughed at Hurley’s percentage estimate but agreed that the gap is narrowing.
“We’re just learning each other still. But we are on a much better page. I understand a lot more what he expects out of me. He understands the type of player that I am. And we’re continuing to gel,” Vital said. “People say we kind of like the same person and stuff like that. We’re going have our moments. But I think we’re going to have a lot more great moments than struggling moments.”
Now if players like Carlton, Polley and Wilson could imbibe a little bit of Vital’s demeanor and attitude, that would produce even more great moments, Hurley insists.
“I wish the team would take on his personality of toughness and self-belief. That’s got to run through your team. We need to have a collective swagger about us that players who play at UConn should have,” Hurley said.