Men’s Basketball: Huskies win ugly game vs. UHart

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Nov 27, 2020; Storrs, Connecticut, USA; Connecticut Huskies head coach Dan Hurley reacts after a play in the second half against the Hartford Hawks at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The only thing louder than the Gampel Pavilion speakers was the referee’s whistle every time UConn committed a foul.

Usually dampened by the roar of the crowd, the ref’s whistle pierced through a practically empty arena every time UConn committed a foul — 24 times to be exact. Even though the Huskies won 69-57, it’s clear there’s a lot of work to be done.

“Just immature and really dumb fouls,” head coach Dan Hurley said following the game. “We weren’t in a stance, we were just sloppy and immature.”

This comes on the back of a 21 foul performance vs. Central Connecticut on Wednesday, but at least then CCSU committed 23 of their own. Friday, UConn far out-fouled Hartford, who only committed 15 of their own.

Last season UConn only committed 24 fouls in a game five times, one of which went to OT and two of which went to double-OT. Unsurprisingly, UConn went 1-4 in those games, with their only win coming against Sacred Heart.

Friday’s game vs. UHart parallels the Sacred Heart game of last year in a lot of ways. UConn won pretty handily, but Hartford made it interesting, even cutting the lead to five at one point in the second half after being down by as much as 19. Both games featured a lot of fouls. Both games were against mid-major schools early in the season. Both games left the Huskies with a lot of question marks following the final buzzer.

After Wednesday’s game, one of those question marks was the defense, which ceded 75 points to the CCSU Blue Devils. Against Hartford, it was better, especially early, but far from perfect. They held Hartford to 57 points and 32% shooting, but it was more a product of the Hawks not being able to hit water if they fell out of a boat than it was lockdown defense.

“I thought we looked really really good early,” Hurley said. “… I thought we really guarded better, with better effort, a little better energy. I just thought we were incredibly immature. … We didn’t sustain it.”

Hurley also made it clear that he thought the immaturity had nothing to do with the limited practice time.

Giving up 21 points at the charity stripe is something that can’t happen in conference games because those teams will make the Huskies pay. UConn needs to be a lot cleaner on the defensive end once Big East games start.

“We were minus-13 at the free-throw line, and I think a lot of those were fouls,” Hurley said. “I obviously complained a lot because I was frustrated by our immaturity, but in a game like this to be minus-13 at the foul line is a surprising number, and it was our immaturity.”

Pretty much everyone on the team had difficulty staying out of foul trouble. R.J. Cole had to be taken out of the game just a couple of minutes after it started because he picked p a quick two/ Andre Jackson, who didn’t even start, followed suit not long after.

“I think RJ’s foul trouble affected the offensive end,” Hurley said. “He’s going to be the engine for us at that end … we need him to be the quarterback.”

However, it was Bouknight who was the lone Husky to foul out, who after only getting called once in the first half got called for a foul four times in the second. The first half was overall much better for him, as he scored just two points in the entire second half — though he only shot the ball three times.

Nov 27, 2020; Storrs, Connecticut, USA; Connecticut Huskies head coach Dan Hurley talks to guard James Bouknight (2) on the bench in the second half against the Hartford Hawks at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Cole and Tyler Polley each finished the game with four fouls while Jalen Gaffney, Brendan Adams and Andre Jackson had three apiece.

Aside from the fouls though, Gaffney had an all-around great night, scoring a career-high 15 points with two assists, two rebounds, two blocks, two steals and zero turnovers. Isaiah Whaley also had a nice night, recording a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards.

It was perhaps Tyrese Martin though who had the biggest impact on the game, playing 25 minutes and finishing with a line of six points, three assists and 10 rebounds. He played with so much energy and physicality that it helped jumpstart the team in his first game as a UConn Husky.

“If he got a two-game suspension from the NCAA instead of a one, it might have been a bang-bang game at the end,” Hurley said. “He was a difference-maker. He played 25 minutes today, we’ve got some things we’ve got to coach him up with, but those 25 minutes are gonna obviously be increased moving forward, we need him on the floor.”

While yes, it’s a win, and yes, there were some positives to take from Friday’s game, it wasn’t exactly the most encouraging of nights.

“It’s really humbling, how far we have to go, watching Villanova last night, Seton Hall today, the better teams in our conference, they don’t put 40 minutes of this type of disciplined play on the court,” Hurley said. “I’ve got a lot I’ve got to get fixed before Dec. 11, and unfortunately for us, we’re gonna learn a lot of really, really hard lessons during these games.”

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