Coming off a shot-clock era low of eight points during the first half of a 55-37 loss to Temple, the Tulane men’s basketball team has a chance to make more history against Connecticut on Saturday.
Only this time, the Green Wave would be celebrating an achievement.
The chance to beat a defending NCAA champion for the first time ever might be what the Wave needs to lift itself out of a horrific shooting slump. Tulane (13-9, 4-6 American Athletic), hitting only 32.4 percent of its attempts during it current four-game skid, faces Connecticut (12-9. 5-4) at 5 p.m. Saturday in Devlin Fieldhouse.
The struggling Huskies look nothing like the No. 7 seed that cut down the nets at the end of the 2014 NCAA tournament. They have lost four straight road contests, and their previous trip ended in an embarrassing 70-68 defeat Sunday at Houston, giving the Cougars their lone victory in 10 AAC games.
“Making history is fun,” Tulane senior guard Jay Hook said. “I can’t wait to do it.”
To back up that confidence, Hook and his backcourt mates need to straighten out their shots in a hurry.
Hook, who set a school mark for 3-pointers a year ago while finishing among the nation’s top five in accuracy, hit only 2 of 13 3s in two games last week.
Leading scorer Louis Dabney is 9-for-36 from the floor in his past three games. Point guard Jonathan Stark has shot 25.3 percent in eight games since being named AAC Player of the Week for his torrid shooting in the Wave’s conference-opening victories against East Carolina and Memphis.
“My mindset and the whole team’s mindset is we’re not looking at UConn, but we just need to win,” Dabney said. “We need to win badly. We’ve been practicing our tail off and grinding every day.”
The Wave, which did not play a midweek game this week, has used the break from competition to work on its flaws.
“It’s mostly rhythm,” Hook said. “Lack of rhythm really hinders on the offensive end. Passing, setting good screens, playing with energy and making good cuts all goes into rhythm.”
For UConn, the coaches’ preseason pick to win the AAC, only one player has been in any rhythm lately.
Guard Ryan Boatright, the lone returning starter from the championship team, has averaged 24.4 points in the past five games. Normally more of a driver than an outsider shooter, he made 25 3s in that stretch.
Yet the Huskies struggle to put anyone else in double figures. Opponents are conceding Boatright’s big numbers while corralling his teammates.
“He is so dynamic,” Tulane coach Ed Conroy said. “He’s finding his shot whenever he wants it, and that’s not even to mention the way he harasses you on the defensive end. He’s one of the best players in college basketball.”
Tulane is 0-for-12 against defending champions, including six defeats to Kentucky when both were members of the Southeastern Conference. Only two of those 12 games were on campus, though, with the most recent a 73-53 defeat to Louisville on Jan. 5, 1981.
Despite the Wave’s recent slump, Devin Fieldhouse should be hopping Saturday afternoon.
“I’ll be disappointed if it’s not (an electric atmosphere),” Hook said.
“Everybody tells me they’re coming, so it better be a good crowd.”