An 0-2 start in conference play was a tough start. Losing four of the next six by seven or fewer was deemed “brutal.” Now, after knocking off The American’s top team in consecutive games, the Huskies are reeling with confidence heading into their lone match-up with the SMU Mustangs.
“We’re a tough team to beat. We played eight games straight, losing by two, three points and we’re just showing now that we can win these games,” freshman James Bouknight said after UConn’s 72-71 overtime win over Cincinnati. “We played much harder, everyone was in tune and we just played a good game.”
— UConn Men's Basketball (@UConnMBB) February 10, 2020
Bouknight, who posted career high point totals in each of the last two games, was named the conference’s player of the week while averaging 22.5 points per game, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals. He is the first Husky to claim the honor since Jalen Adams in February 2017 and is one of two Huskies who currently averages more than 10 points a game averaging at 11.6, Christian Vial being the other, averaging at 14.3.
Since entering the starting lineup, Bouknight is averaging nearly 14 points a game and, with 4-for-5 and 3-for-6 marks from downtown in his last two games, he is leading all active Huskies in 3-point percentage (38.1%). He’s gone from “showing flashes” of his top-100 recruit status to being UConn’s (13-10, 4-6 The American) go-to scorer, even late in games.
“Unleash him and let him play through things and get the valuable experience,” head coach Dan Hurley said prior to UConn’s loss to Tulsa at home. “He’s making less defensive mistakes.”
While there’s room for improvement for Bouknight — Hurley goes onto mention being “tighter with the ball” and more “shot ready” — UConn fans have gotten a taste of what the future in Storrs will look like. But first, the Huskies have a date with the Mustangs.
SMU (16-6, 6-4 The American), fresh off a loss to Temple, sits two spots above UConn at No. 5 and boasts the top offense in the conference. The Mustangs score 75.9 points a game thanks to a conference-leading free throw percentage (76.3) and field goal percentage (45.9), while dropping more dimes than any other team in The American with 16.8 per game.
The Mustangs move the ball effectively and score often, resulting in four players averaging double-digit point totals. Kendric Davis, a sophomore transfer from TCU, is responsible for nearly 30 points every time he takes the floor. He scores at a 15.8 clip and has 132 assists (6 per game), more than double teammate Tyson Jolly’s second-best 56.
Jolly, a junior, can score the ball pretty well himself, with a 39.6 3-point percentage and 14.8 points per game, good for second best on the team. He trails Isiaha Mike (41.8) and C.J. White (42.9) in makes from deep, but the three round out SMU’s group of top scorers.
UConn will need to play to its identity, its defense, if it will leave Dallas with its third-straight win. The Huskies allow 65 points and are the conference’s top shot-blocking team (6.6), with Akok Akok providing 2.83 a night, good enough for 10th-best in the nation. Christian Vital is tied for tenth in college basketball with 2.43 steals a game (UConn averages just north of six) and will maybe see some help from Alterique Gilbert, who snagged three steals against Memphis in his first game coming off the bench.
UConn’s offense still seems to be a bit streaky and inconsistent, but has vastly improved as Bouknight plays through the growing pains of a freshman. The Huskies are trending in the right direction of late, but are not satisfied yet.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but this is not what we came here for, to win two games in a row,” Vital said after beating the Bearcats. “We gotta keep going. We’re gonna enjoy ourselves tonight, sleep a little bit better tonight, but once we wake up tomorrow, we gotta get ready for SMU.”
UConn and SMU will tip off at 7 p.m. from Moody Coliseum in Dallas, TX. The game will be broadcast by ESPN News.