I said last week that UConn’s 80-62 win over Marquette was the best the team had looked all season. Well, I take that back.
The Huskies (14-6, 11-6 Big East) decided to save their best regular season performance for last, crushing Georgetown (9-12, 7-9 Big East) 98-82 on Senior Day, but the game wasn’t even that close. UConn led for the entire game and was up 51-24 at the half. This was a true coast-to-coast domination against a Georgetown team that came in hot, winning four of its last five.
This UConn team is playing its best basketball at the most important time of the year, something that head coach Dan Hurley said is impossible to control but is what you strive for.
“You just improve as a team as the season goes on,” Hurley said. “You just become a stronger team. You’re better connected, you’re more together, everyone understands their roles and you just hope that you can make enough shots and that guys can play well enough offensively.”
The Huskies played exceptionally well offensively on Saturday in what was Hurley’s 200th win as a college head coach. Their 98 points was the most scored this season since the opener against Central Connecticut, when they scored 102. James Bouknight led the team with 21 points, including five 3-pointers, tying a career high. The team as a whole hit a season high 12 threes, shooting 43% from behind the arc.
“You have to have that shooting, you have to have those floor spacers,” Hurley said. “When you can’t shoot it’s hard, and then you’re in rock fights.”
Jalen Gaffney added 15 points on a perfect 6-for-6 shooting day, and Adama Sanogo had his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. But Saturday was really all about the seniors.
Before the game, Isaiah Whaley, Tyler Polley, Josh Carlton and Brendan Adams (who is actually a junior but will be graduating in May after completing his economics degree in three years) had their UConn careers celebrated. Despite Gampel Pavilion being nearly empty, the players’ families recorded some beautiful video messages to each of them, making for a very nice ceremony.
“It was pretty emotional,” Polley said. “It was really special just seeing everything from all the past years. It’s crazy, it went by so fast. But I’m just so grateful, so blessed to play at UConn and be a part of the rebuild.”
In the game, Polley hit a few threes and finished with 11 points. Whaley only played 14 minutes with foul trouble but still managed 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting. Carlton played a huge role off the bench in the first half with seven points and seven boards. Adams only played four minutes in the game but still got on the scoresheet with a couple of free throws.
All four players are eligible to return to UConn next season if they choose, and it’s very possible a couple of them might. But they all made it very clear earlier in the week that they’re focusing on this season only right now.
And why wouldn’t they be? The rest of this season is incredibly bright with the way the team is playing right now. As the No. 3 seed in next week’s Big East Tournament, UConn might actually be the sneaky favorite to win with the issues facing the two teams ahead of them — Creighton’s coaching debacle and Villanova’s loss of Collin Gilespie to a knee injury. The Huskies are going into next week with a ton of confidence.
“This year, we know it’s the year,” Bouknight said. “We’re just so confident. We know we have a special team and we can actually make something happen this year. We can make some noise.”
However, Hurley wants to make sure his guys don’t get too high on themselves and “drink the Kool-Aid” just because people are picking them as a team to go far in March Madness now. He wants this team to keep a chip on its shoulder and stay motivated to prove people wrong who doubted them earlier in the season.
“I’m gonna keep these guys on edge,” Hurley said. “Maybe I need to show them some old social media posts where people were just destroying us when we were at our lowest point. I’m gonna have these guys revved up for Thursday, I can guarantee you that.”
Next Thursday in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, the Huskies will play the winner of the No. 6 vs. No. 11 game, which will take place during the first day of the tournament on Wednesday. Happy Champ Week everyone! This is going to be fun.