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UConn makes highly-anticipated return to Big East Tournament

A year ago, UConn was trucking into the postseason on a five-game winning streak only to have everything come to a screeching halt due to COVID-19.

The Huskies are rolling once again - winners of four straight - and this time they are hoping for a better fate as they return to the Big East Tournament for the first time in eight years.

“It’s the best conference tournament and I don’t think it’s debatable,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said.

“Everyone has one common goal and everyone is on the same page right now,” UConn sophomore Jalen Gaffney added. “We are just clicking on all cylinders right now and we’re all really confident.”

The third-seed Huskies (14-6) play the No. 11 DePaul/No. 6 Providence winner in the quarterfinals at 9 p.m. Thursday at Madison Square Garden (FS1).

“We are definitely expecting a dog fight,” sophomore guard James Bouknight said. “The Big East is one of the best conferences in the country and every game is a tough game - it’s a battle. If you don’t come in with the right mindset, you can lose any game, so we’re expecting a war every game.”

Even though UConn hasn’t played in a Big East Tournament since 2012, the program shares the most titles with Georgetown at seven apiece. The Huskies missed the 2013 tournament due to NCAA sanctions and then spent seven seasons in the American Athletic Conference.

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The Huskies don’t have Christian Vital to lead them this time around, but Bouknight is a first-team all-conference player and a likely top-15 NBA draft pick if he turns pro after the season.

“We are just so confident,” Bouknight added. “In practice, we talk about it. We have a great team and we can actually make something happen this year. Make some noise and be one of those big-name schools.”

The Huskies also have all-freshman center Adama Sanogo along with a seasoned senior trio that includes co-Big East defensive player of the year Isaiah Whaley, conference sixth man of the year Tyler Polley, and center Josh Carlton.

“We’re just clicking right now and playing real good basketball,” said Polley, who missed the late-season run in 2020 due to a knee injury.

In terms of overall team health, Hurley said it’s all systems go for the Huskies tomorrow.

“It’s the healthiest we’ve been."