Men’s Basketball: Huskies look for revenge against Providence

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Connecticut guard R.J. Cole (1) was a big factor in the team’s success on Saturday. Cole hits a free throw with under a minute to play in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, in Cincinnati. Photo courtesy of Albert Cesare / The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP.

Just six days after a rather ugly loss to Providence on the road, the UConn men’s basketball team has a chance for revenge when it hosts the Friars on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion. 

Akok Akok, Isaiah Whaley and Tyrese Martin, who all played against Xavier on Saturday but were not 100%, will all be good to go against Providence (11-10, 7-8 Big East), according to head coach Dan Hurley. The status of James Bouknight, who has been out since Jan. 5, remains unknown at the time of writing, as Hurley said Bouknight is meeting with the surgeon on Monday night. He said the team will release more info about his status prior to Tuesday’s game, but he did note that Bouknight has been participating in practice. 

UConn (9-5, 6-5 Big East) has looked like two completely different teams in the last two games. The offense had no fluidity in the 70-59 loss to Providence last Wednesday, but then the offense played extremely well in the 80-72 win against what most would consider a better team in Xavier on Saturday. 

“We’ve missed James, we’ve dealt with other situations during the season … There’s a reason why we’ve been inconsistent. They’re not excuses. There’s a difference between excuses and reasons…”

Dan Hurley, Head coach, UConn Men’s Basketball

“We’ve missed James, we’ve dealt with other situations during the season,” Hurley said. “There’s a reason why we’ve been inconsistent. They’re not excuses. There’s a difference between excuses and reasons … Success isn’t guaranteed or owned, success is rented, and we’ve got to earn success tomorrow by coming out like the team we were on Saturday.” 

R.J. Cole was a big factor in the team’s success on Saturday. Hurley called his 24-point, seven-assist performance “as good a game as a point guard has played in the Big East this year,” but he still wants to see more from him in terms of leadership. Hurley said he doesn’t know whether he will put Cole back in the starting lineup or let him try to keep cooking off the bench. 

It’s pretty rare to play the same team twice in a week in college basketball, but that’s a product of all the postponements early in the season. Both teams have only played one game since the last time they met, making the preparation a little more simple for both coaches. 

“It’s easier on the prep work,” Hurley said of the quick turnaround. “You probably have more time to deal with your team — individuals and how they’re feeling, group health mentally and the togetherness — when you don’t have to pour over six or seven games when you haven’t seen a team.” 

Connecticut head coach Dan Hurley, is very happy about where the team is at right now. He encourages the team in the second half half of an NCAA college basketball game against Xaxier, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, in Cincinnati. Photo courtesy of Albert Cesare / The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP.

UConn obviously had the big bounce-back win over Xavier. Providence, meanwhile, gutted out a 57-47 win at DePaul. Neither team shot the ball well in that game, but the Friars fared a little better at 35%, compared to DePaul’s 30.6%. Providence actually turned the ball over more than DePaul in that game (15-13), but the Friars took advantage of those turnovers better, scoring 16 points off turnovers to DePaul’s seven. It wasn’t a pretty game, but a win is a win in the Big East. 

Back to UConn; Hurley is very happy about where the team is at right now. There’s been a lot of adversity this season between COVID-19 pauses and injuries, but the Huskies are still in a solid position to reach their goal of making the NCAA Tournament. A win over Providence would put them firmly back in the field of 68 heading into a big game with No. 10 Villanova this weekend. 

“A team in our situation in year three of our process that loses what we’ve lost and is still in position to reach a lofty goal is a testament to the group and how tough they’ve been,” Hurley said. “How committed they’ve been throughout a season that’s been challenging for a lot of teams, not just us.” 

The Huskies will have to play tougher, faster and ultimately, just a lot better than they did last week in order to split the season series with their regional rivals. If Bouknight can come back, even on a minute restriction, that would certainly help. But even without him, the team proved just how good it can be on Saturday. 

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Albert Cesare / The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP.

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