In UConn’s last game against Creighton, the Huskies struggled to find scoring alongside their sophomore star James Bouknight. That wasn’t the case at all in Wednesday’s game against DePaul, where UConn won handily by a score of 82-61. It was UConn’s first Big East win since March 9, 2013 against Providence.
The Huskies (4-1, 1-1 Big East) had 10 different players score, including five with at least eight points. DePaul (1-2, 0-2 Big East) really had no answer for UConn on defense, letting them shoot 49% overall, 41% from three and let them take 21 free throws, of which they made 15. It was the most balanced game in terms of scoring for UConn since the Hartford game.
“You need [balance],” head coach Dan Hurley said. “In [the Creighton game], we showed tremendous guts and character and culture to put ourselves in a position to close it out in regulation but we had a lot of 1-for-8s and 1-for-6s. If they would’ve gotten to the eight-to-10-point range instead of the two-point range, we could’ve I think won the game in regulation relatively comfortably.”
Bouknight was adamant after the Creighton game that his teammates would provide some scoring around him, and that’s exactly what happened the very next game.
“I knew that our team was going to step up,” Bouknight said. “I knew that last game we just had a bad shooting night, but I knew that other players were going to step up … Just putting together games like this where the whole team is playing well, it feels good.”
That’s not to say Bouknight didn’t have a good game himself, although Hurley made a point to only give him a C+ grade for the night. He didn’t drop 40 like last game, but he didn’t need to. He still scored 20 points on 6-for-13 shooting, but it was clear that DePaul’s game plan was to make someone else besides Bouknight beat them.
“The best player on the opposing team garners a lot of attention,” DePaul head coach Dave Leitao said. “I thought we paid a lot of attention to [Bouknight], but as a result didn’t pay attention to two other things: our base defense and how we play, and then the other guys that we need to contain.”
That someone ended up being primarily Tyrese Martin, who finished with a game high 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting for the best game of his short UConn career so far. He also grabbed 10 rebounds to record UConn’s second double-double of the season (Isaiah Whaley had one against Hartford).
“[Martin is] a guy we can post some because he’s so athletic,” Hurley said. “He’s so active. He’s an excellent rebounder, he’s on the offensive glass. Change of possession, he really gets out in transition. When he gets downhill with the drive, particularly going at that left hand, he’s got an ability to really finish at the rim.”
Martin and Bouknight became the first UConn teammates with 20 points in a game since Christian Vital and Alterique Gilbert did it in the brutal loss to Saint Joseph’s last season.
On the defensive end, UConn also played well, holding a Blue Demons team that hit over 45% of its threes in its first two games to just 4-for-17 from behind the arc. They also forced 16 DePaul turnovers, although they also turned the ball over 16 times themselves.
“My teams and how I build programs is at the defensive end of the court,” Hurley said. “If you defend the hell out of people every night and if you make people uncomfortable, you speed them up and you turn them over … If you’re a high-level defensive team, you’re gonna have a chance to win every single night that you step on the floor.”
DePaul’s top scorer was Darious Hall with 14 points, as the Huskies did a good job limiting DePaul’s best players Charlie Moore and Romeo Weems, who finished with just eight and six points, respectively.
The 21-point win moved UConn’s all-time record against DePaul to 11-1. It was also UConn’s most lopsided conference win of any kind since East Carolina last season and most lopsided Big East win since they beat these same DePaul Blue Demons 99-78 on Jan. 8, 2013. Turns out some things don’t change in eight years.
Next up, the Huskies will go on a three-game road trip to the midwest. First up on that trip is Marquette on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.