Men’s Basketball: No. 23 Huskies take on LIU Sharks 

The Huskies beat Coppin State 89-54 in the XL Center on Nov. 13, 2021. UConn led most of the game and plays their next game on Nov. 17. Photo by Kevin Lindstrom.

After jumping out to a 2-0 start behind two dominating home wins, the UConn men’s basketball team is back at Gampel Pavilion on Wednesday, where they are slated to take on the LIU Sharks. 

The No. 23 Huskies have enjoyed the benefit of playing weaker teams this year, beating both CCSU and Coppin State, two squads that rank in the bottom 10 in the nation, according to the Kenpom rankings. LIU fares a little better on that list, clocking in at 274 out of 358 qualified teams.  

Connecticut got a recent boost in Monday’s AP Top 25 Poll, jumping up from No. 24 to No. 23 in the nation after two very convincing wins last week. The Kenpom ratings have them even higher, putting them 21st in the league based on adjusted efficiency margin. The Huskies beat CCSU by a whopping 51 points in their season opener, while blowing out Coppin State by 35 on Saturday. They look to continue their warpath on Wednesday. When asked about how the team stays focused despite Top 25 hype surrounding the team, guard RJ Cole had some wise words. 

“[We’re] just making sure that we never get complacent. Honestly, there’s no need for us to get complacent, we’re No. 23 in the country. There’s more room for improvement, and we don’t wanna be No. 23, we wanna be top 15 [or] top 10,” Cole said. “We like to be the hunters, not the hunted.” 

UConn has been led so far by sophomore big Adama Sanogo, scoring 20 points in each of his two appearances on a combined 19-for-24 shooting. While benefiting from some easier matchups than he’ll see in conference play or even the upcoming Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, the 2021 Big East All-Tournament Team member looks to solidify himself as a top post scorer in the nation. As of late, it’s been nothing but smooth sailing for the Big East Honor Roll member. 

“Honestly, most of our mentality is when in doubt, just give Adama [Sanogo] the ball,” Tyrese Martin said on Saturday with a laugh. “He’s scoring at a high clip, so we’re gonna keep giving [the ball] to him and we hope he keeps scoring the way he does. When they start doubling him, he’s [finding] a kick out pass for a three.” 

Besides Sanogo, the Huskies seem to have a plethora of scoring options this year, as four other players are averaging at least 10 points per game over the two contests. Head coach Dan Hurley refers to the players that aren’t freshmen or walk-ons as his “eight starters” for good reason, as they all can bring a big impact to the court on any given night.  

For instance, in the last game it was Andre Jackson and Tyler Polley who had off nights, and Jalen Gaffney and Akok Akok more than picked up the slack.  

Akok was everywhere on both ends of the court, and Gaffney was on pace for a triple-double at the half, but was stunted by limited minutes due to Hurley trying to rotate everyone in. Polley is the reigning Big East Sixth Man of the Year while Jackson has breakout potential, so it could very easily be these guys having noteworthy performances on Wednesday.  

The three freshmen that have seen time so far are Samson Johnson, Rahsool Diggins and Richie Springs, with Jordan Hawkins sitting out with an injury, but could possibly return on Wednesday. The trio have seen limited minutes as they acclimate to the college game, but have been working hard to make an impact on the court. Hurley noted that he’s trying to prepare his “eight starters” to be ready for around 30 minutes of game action instead of 23 or so they’ve been getting in these blowouts, so don’t expect too many more minutes a game for these guys (who are averaging from five to eight mpg currently) for the time being, especially if Hawkins returns. 

LIU has struggled so far this season, getting obliterated by a very good San Francisco squad, as well as an average Fresno State team. Both of those road losses came by more than 20 points. The Sharks are projected to finish fourth in an inconsistent Northeast Conference, and hope to improve upon their 9-9 finish last year. 

LIU is led by redshirt senior Eral Penn and graduate student Ty Flowers, who are averaging 16.5 and 17.5 points per game, respectively. Penn received Preseason All-NEC First Team honors, while Flowers was nominated to the second team. Flowers, a 6-foot-9 forward, has started the season hot, earning a spot on the NEC Prime Performers list this past week. Against Fresno State, he had a game-high 26 points thanks to a career-high six three-pointers made. Be sure to watch out for this tandem on Wednesday, as they are the focal point of this Sharks offense. 

Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion on Wednesday, with the game broadcast on FS2. 

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