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UConn's anxious to get back to work

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published December 18. 2013 4:00AM

Storrs - Any lingering post-exam fog appeared to have lifted by Tuesday morning.

UConn completed a productive practice at Gampel Pavilion preparing for tonight's non-conference game against Stanford (9 p.m., ESPN2) at the XL Center in Hartford.

Coming off a 12-day exam break, the Huskies will attempt to recapture the energy, enthusiasm and execution that helped carry them to a 9-0 start.

Stanford (7-2) has the benefit of having one game under its belt since returning from exam break.

No. 10 UConn is hoping to avoid a sluggish start.

"We've got to come out with a lot of energy and intensity because it's been so long (since we've played)," junior Ryan Boatright said. "If you come out flat, anything can happen. Your jump shot could be off. Your execution could be off a little bit.

"Coming out with a lot of intensity and playing hard can fix all that."

UConn is as one of 13 undefeated teams remaining in Division I and the only unbeaten in the American Athletic Conference.

The Huskies are playing their first game as a top 10 team since early Jan. 2012.

The Huskies can add to their quality resume with a win.

"I think we've got a good resume so far," coach Kevin Ollie said. "But like I keep saying, we can't live on it, we've got to keep building on it and keep taking care of now. And now is Stanford."

Stanford is a program in need of a marquee win. Coach Johnny Dawkins is under pressure to guide the Cardinal to an NCAA tournament berth after failing to do so in his first five seasons.

So consider the Cardinal a dangerous team.

The outcome may come down to UConn's speed, especially in the backcourt, against Stanford's size.

"If we get in a wrestling match with them, I think we'll lose," Ollie said.

"Hopefully, we can box out, use our speed and get out in transition and don't make it a halfcourt game and get some easy buckets on them and make this game get up and down a little bit."

The Huskies will be on high alert on defense while contending with a strong inside presence, led by mobile and skilled senior forward Dwight Powell (15.1 points), and a pair of perimeter weapons in Chasson Randle (18.2 points) and Anthony Brown (16.3), the team's two leading scorers and top 3-point shooting threats.

The Cardinal run an efficient, high-scoring offense that averages 81.9 points.

"It's a great offense," Ollie said. "Guys are always moving, so our guys have got to stay alert. They bang the ball down low, too. We're going to be challenged defensively and have to get back in transition and hold them under 80 points."

UConn should be able to take advantage of Stanford's suspect defense. The Cardinal allowed 112 points in a regulation loss to BYU and gave up 88 points to Pittsburgh in another loss.

The game will feature a pair of former Illinois high school basketball star guards in Boatright and Randle. They attended East Aurora High School and Rock Island, respectively.

Boatright and Randle hold the rare distinction of being the only players to share the Mr. Basketball of Illinois honor in the 33-year history of the award. That happened in 2011.

With the exception of one summer game, they've never played against each other.

"That was unheard of," Boatright said of co-winners. "It was a blessing to be named Mr. Basketball even though it was co-winners."

When asked if tonight's performance will serve as the tie-breaker between the two, Boatright laughed and said no.

"I think that's what everybody wants the game to be about," Boatright said. "With me, I'm past that. I'm more mature. It's about getting this win and doing my job. I'm not going out there trying to prove anything."

g.keefe@theday.com

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