The Terrapins present the unranked Huskies with another top-10 foe Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden, but sixth-ranked Maryland is also preparing for UConn as more of a North Carolina than a St. Francis.
While Maryland (7-1) is coming off Friday's 96-55 home win over the Red Flash following last Tuesday's 89-81 defeat at the then-No. 9 Tar Heels, UConn (5-2) beat Sacred Heart 82-49 Wednesday at home after a 73-70 loss to then-No. 10 Gonzaga on Nov. 27. That loss concluded a disappointing showing in the Battle 4 Atlantis and was preceded by a 79-76 loss to Syracuse the day before, so the Huskies are eager to see another big program.
"This is a huge opportunity for us," said UConn guard Rodney Purvis, who was 7 of 13 for 19 points in the latest game after shooting 33.3 percent in the losses. "We let two huge wins slip away in the Bahamas, but that is in the past, so we have to move forward. This is one of the biggest games that we are going to play and we can't let these opportunities slip away from us."
It will likely take a better offensive performance to avoid that fate. The Huskies shot 52.5 percent against Sacred Heart, but they hit 42.6 percent and 28.9 from 3-point range in the losses. That doesn't figure to be enough against a Maryland team that shot 67.4 percent against St. Francis and is at 54.5 for the season, which matches UConn's top single-game mark.
Robert Carter Jr. had a season-high 20 points, six rebounds and six assists in 19 minutes of the Terrapins' latest win, and his coach thinks there's more to come.
"He gets a little bit more comfortable each and every game," Mark Turgeon said of the Georgia Tech transfer. "There is a lot more in him that we haven't seen yet."
Fellow forward Jake Layman had 16 points and was 5 of 7 - 4 for 6 from 3-point range - after being limited to 6.7 points on 6 of 15 from the field in his previous three games.
"It wasn't just North Carolina; it was a couple of games in a row actually," Layman said. "... My coaches and teammates did a great job of keeping me grounded and they made sure that my confidence was still there."
The Terrapins, however, were more concerned with what took place at the other end of the floor after allowing North Carolina to shoot 53.2 percent and hit 9 of 13 from 3-point range. They held the Red Flash to 29.0 percent and 8 of 27 from long range.
"All we've talked about since Tuesday night was defending," Turgeon said. "I thought for the most part we continued to concentrate defensively. We were pretty dialed in to what they were doing. I was really pleased with that. It was a step in the right direction for us. I talked about being more consistent in our play and respecting our opponent."
Individually, those threats for UConn figure to be Purvis, who leads the team with 14.1 points per game, and Daniel Hamilton. Hamilton had 14 points and 13 rebounds against Sacred Heart, and the sophomore is averaging 15.5 and 9.0 in his last four games.
The eventual blowout win might have overshadowed the 11-point deficit the Huskies faced before ending the first half on a 27-2 run. It came a game after trailing Gonzaga by 16 at the half.
"The first half and the beginning of the second half we had some lows, and we can't do that against good teams," coach Kevin Ollie said.
The winner of the last two meetings has gone on to win the national championship - UConn in 2013-14 and Maryland in 2001-02.