UConn men arrive at Battle 4 Atlantis, practice ahead of opener against Auburn

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – One less tournament, one to go. Tuesday was transition day at Battle 4 Atlantis.

With Geno Auriemma playing golf and the rest of the women’s team planning some sort of island excursion, Dan Hurley and the men took center stage and got to work.

The No. 22-ranked Huskies — Hurley, RJ Cole, Tyrese Martin — met the media ahead of practice on Tuesday, preparing for Wednesday’s opener against No. 19 Auburn at Imperial Arena. UConn arrived Monday evening.

“These guys had some time off, maybe they could add a few slides or something, go around the lazy river,” Hurley said. “And then we’ll meet again.”

UConn (4-0) looked sharp in knocking out Central Connecticut, Coppin State, Long Island and, for the most part, Binghamton — though Hurley was frustrated with that performance, especially the defense.

“We’re going 4-0 and taking advantage of the momentum we’ve created,” said senior guard RJ Cole. “Now we have the chance to step up a bit and play tougher competition and I think we’re ready for that. So I’m happy.

Auburn is led by sophomore guard Wendell Green Jr. (11.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3 assists) and freshman forward Jabari Smith (13.3 points, nine rebounds). Reserve guard KD Johnson, a sophomore, leads the Tigers with 15 points per game.

“Incredible positional size, potential top-five draft pick, top-three draft picks,” Hurley said. “You know, just all types of frontcourt size and athleticism. And we talked about, you know, we have eight starters, or we like our nine-man rotation. I mean, they’re deep and bring out off the bench someone like Johnson who is as good as anyone on the court. This is a team that I think can run deep and deep. They are very deep in every position with quality. So we look like you’re playing against a team that can potentially make it and Elite Eight or a Final Four.

The UConn-Auburn winner will face the Michigan State-Loyola winner on Thursday.

“These games are important in terms of what you’re trying to do in the long run to learn more about your team and where your blind spots are,” Hurley said. “The level of competition will increase significantly here. And the areas where we need to improve will be on display this weekend. And then we’ll play another 22 games like these when we get back to the United States, 20 Big East games, and then, you know, two other kinds of major games in West Virginia and [St. Bonaventure].”

Of UConn, Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said, “They do a great job with their spacing, they do a great job with their inside offense, their ball reversals, their high-low. They run their offense through their inside players and they have some really good perimeter guys. So I think it’s a combination of what Coach Hurley does, in terms of their spacing.”

Pearl is impressed with Adama Sanogo, who is averaging 15.8 points and 6.3 rebounds.

“Its improvement,” Pearl said. “We also loved him in high school. We recruited him a bit, we got to know him. I’m happy with his success.”

Tigers forward Walker Kessler said: “They’re an extremely physical team, an older team, so obviously getting on the glass is going to be huge for us, just hitting them first is probably the main thing for we. … [Sanogo] is very skilful, physical, uses his body well. You have to respect him and he’s good, but play hard and play well.”

Arizona State, coached by Bobby Hurley, could be an opponent later in the week. Basically, if UConn and ASU get the same result in Game 1, they’ll end up on the same side of the board with a 50/50 chance of meeting on the final day of the tournament.

“If we played the league game, I think it would be something we would both sign here for,” said Dan Hurley. “It’s not something we look forward to, but it’s our goal for both of us.”

mike.anthony@hearstmediact.com; @ManthonyHearst