After a painful 53-56 loss to West Virginia on Wednesday night, the No. 15 ranked Huskies are on the road once again, slated to take on a talented St. Bonaventure team in a neutral-site game in Newark, New Jersey. This game, as well as the UConn women’s bout with UCLA, will complete the Never Forget Tribute Classic doubleheader.
Connecticut is familiar with the Never Forget Tribute Classic, having lost a tough contest to No. 11 Florida State back in December 2018, — head coach Dan Hurley’s second year at Storrs. This will be St. Bonaventure’s first appearance in the series.
UConn is dealing with a few major injuries at the moment, missing starters Adama Sanogo and Tyrese Martin. Martin was named a Preseason All-Big East Second Team member earlier this year, with Sanogo earning an honorable mention.
Their absence is certainly felt, as the plethora of scoring options among the Huskies at the start of the year has transformed into the RJ Cole show. In the three games they have been out (including the one Sanogo got hurt in), Cole has led the team with 57 points. He is the only Husky to hit double digit scoring in all three contests, with Isaiah Whaley being the only other player with at least two games of double digit scoring.
One player who has had opportunities to step up is freshman Jordan Hawkins, who saw increased minutes early in the year until the Martin injury, leading to a seamless transition into the rotation. Since his two most notable games coming off the bench against Binghamton and Auburn, the guard has shot 9-for-31 from the floor, well under 33 percent. Obviously Hawkins is just going through some first-year growing pains, but the competition is not going to get any easier, with Big East games the rest of the way outside of Saturday’s matchup.
Another player who hasn’t been stepping up as expected is junior forward Akok Akok. Akok, one of those depth pieces Hurley was so excited about at the beginning of the year, hasn’t been much of a factor on the scoring end, as he put up only two points in 31 minutes on Wednesday night. Defensively he’s been okay, but not what the team is looking for from a guy that was toward the top of the nation in blocks in his last full season. The expectations are higher for Akok, and he likely will get another opportunity or two in the starting rotation to show signs of improvement with Sanogo being out.
St. Bonaventure, like UConn, has seen a successful start to the season. The Bonnies have started the season with an 8-1 record, earning a few quality wins over Clemson, Boise State and Marquette on their way to winning the Charleston Classic Championship. The only blemish on their record is due to a home upset loss against Northern Iowa, a team that ranks No. 129 in the country according to the KenPom ratings. St. Bonaventure themselves ranks No. 44 in the nation on that same scale, ensuring a tough matchup ahead for UConn.
Similar to the Huskies, the Bonnies have had their share of early injuries too, with star point guard Kyle Lofton missing the last two games due to an ankle injury. His status for Saturday is questionable, but there is a solid chance he makes his return this weekend, which would mean more trouble for this UConn team still finding itself. The Putnam Science alum was averaging 17.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg and 5.9 apg before his injury. Lofton’s status is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
With or without the First Team All-Conference guard, the Bonnies are a force to be reckoned with. They have four other players currently averaging double digit scoring, including two senior guards in Jaren Holmes and Jalen Adaway. The pair has combined for 31.8 ppg this season, and are extremely aggressive on the glass, combining for 14.5 rpg. Akok and Whaley will certainly have their hands full down low keeping Holmes and Adaway from snagging extra boards.
Tipoff is slated for 3:30 p.m. at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Saturday. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.