MEMPHIS — In a few years, if things go according to Dan Hurley’s plan, UConn will look something like what Houston currently resembles.

That would mean the Huskies would be Final Four contenders. Because that’s certainly what Houston looked like on Friday afternoon.

With an impressive mix of talent, athleticism, depth, speed and size, the top-seeded Cougars thoroughly dominated UConn from the opening tap en route to an 84-45 victory in an American Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal game at FedExForum.

UConn finished its season 16-17 overall, its third straight season finishing below .500.

“Houston is where we want to get some day,” said Dan Hurley, at the close of his first season as UConn’s head coach. “Like, one through 10, that’s how good we’ve got to get. It was just kind of a humbling reminder of how far we have to go, both from a recruitment and development standpoint. It’s going to take us some time.”

Houston got off to an 11-0 start, led 18-7 and, after surviving the Huskies’ only real run of the game, led by 14 at halftime.

The Cougars opened the latter half with a head-spinning run, leaving the final 12 minutes of play as little more than a final coda on Jalen Adams’ collegiate career.

Adams entered the game needing 20 points to overtake former Houston guard Rob Gray, Jr. as the AAC’s all-time leading scorer. He finished with 15, to go with 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.

“I think my senior season has been my biggest season for me, mentally,” Adams said. “I think since Coach has got here, he’s pushed me to limits I haven’t been pushed before, and that is why I’ve had my best season since I’ve been in college basketball.”

Josh Carlton also notched a double-double for the Huskies with 13 points and 11 boards.

The loss was UConn’s most lop-sided in a conference tournament game and its second-worst in postseason history, surpassed only by a 101-54 loss to Duke in the 1964 NCAA tournament. The Huskies shot just 25.9 percent (14-for-54) from the floor, their second-worst performance since 1980.

UConn was 3-for-26 from 3-point land and missed all 13 3-point attempts in the second half.

“There are no delusions of grandeur with this coaching staff,” Hurley said. “Throughout the year, we’ve known exactly where we are at. If we don’t have the injuries — with Alterique (Gilbert) and Jalen — obviously, we could have represented ourselves better throughout the course of the year. We’ve known where we’re at, and how far we have to go.”

No. 12 Houston, which will face Memphis in the AAC tourney semifinals on Saturday, is a good measuring stick. Nine different players made significant contributions for the Cougars, who knocked down 10 3-pointers, outrebounded the Huskies by nine and scored 22 fast-break points. Even while Houston’s second-half lead ballooned to as much as 40, they continued to scrap and fight hard for loose balls and offensive rebounds.

“Listen, that’s a pack of wolves,” Hurley said of the Cougars. “That is a pack of wolves, one through 10. No let-up. I mean, they play with incredible confidence, toughness, intensity, joy. The depth, they just keep coming and their second group they put in would have finished in the top four (in the AAC).”

“That,” Hurley continued, “is a Final Four-caliber team.”

And that’s exactly where Hurley wants to be in the future. The building blocks are there. Carlton, a sophomore, was the AAC’s co-Most Improved Player this season. Gilbert, who missed the Huskies’ two AAC tourney games with a concussion and eye injury, is the team’s heart and soul. Tyler Polley and Sid Wilson have had their moments, and Hurley expects Brendan Adams to show more than he did this season.

Akok Akok is already here, and the 6-foot-9 forward’s talent has truly stood out in practice since he joined the team, according to those who’d know. Jalen Gaffney and James Bouknight are a pair of highly-touted guards on the way, and Hurley and his staff are still hot on the trail of some high-profile targets.

“I think the group is gonna definitely be a good group next year,” junior Christian Vital said. “A lot of guys coming back, the incoming freshmen, James and Jalen, those two guards coming in will definitely be really good for the program, as well.”

Although the final record was only slightly better than last year’s 14-18 mark, there’s no doubt the program saw improvement. There were no embarrassing, early-season losses to mid-majors. The blowout losses — despite Friday’s result — were fewer. The team played hard and, with a few notable exceptions, represented itself well on the court.

“We’ve just got to look back at the strides we made, individually and as a team,” Vital added. “When this group first got together, between the coaching staff and team, we didn’t know what to expect, we didn’t know what was gonna happen. But everyone stayed with it, everyone kept fighting until the end. It’s just a tough way to go out to end the season.”

Tough, but also a reminder of where the program is right now and — in the form of the red-and-white uniforms on the opposing bench — where it needs to get in the future.

“Just a tough way to end the season,” Hurley added. “Now, obviously, several, several months to stew over this and what happened. Several months to stew over this.”

david.borges

@hearstmediact.com