“I wish we would have played better, but you’re never upset when you walk away with a road win in this league.”
Such words from head coach Dan Hurley have never rang more true, as the UConn men’s basketball team grabbed their fifth straight win on Saturday night with a 57-50 win over DePaul.
It definitely wasn’t the cleanest win of the season for the Huskies, who struggled offensively, shooting just 37% from the floor and draining two of 15 three-point attempts.
Thankfully for UConn, the team was able to put on a clinic on the boards, outrebounding DePaul 45-35 over the course of the game. The Huskies grabbed a solid 16 offensive rebounds, helping them get some key second chance points.
“You play elite defense and you rebound the heck out of the ball — you’re going to have a chance to win every game you play,” Hurley said postgame.
The shining star of this contest was easily point guard RJ Cole, who carried the team with a game-high 25 points. Throughout the entire matchup, Cole was seemingly everywhere, hitting big buckets, including both of the team’s three-pointers, drawing charges and hitting crucial free throws. He also added five rebounds, an assist and a steal while not turning the ball over.
Big man Adama Sanogo had a rough game, despite finishing second among all Huskies, scoring with 10 points. Typically a focal point of the UConn offense, the forward was relatively missing throughout the contest. Sanogo finished the first half with just two points, coming on a last-second shot thanks to a full-court dime from Andre Jackson. He came out of the break hot, scoring his next eight points and blocking a shot, but only scored once more after that quick stretch.
And look, off-nights will happen to the best of players, but in these Big East road games, quality production is nothing but expected from guys like Sanogo.
Outside of Cole, there weren’t a lot of great individual performances, but the second-best player for the away team was easily Jackson. The sophomore forward had the team’s second highest efficiency rate of 16, shooting 2-for-6 for seven points. He also added three assists, a steal and a game-high 13 rebounds.
One of my biggest takeaways from this game was the lack of production from the bench, again. After a big night from the typical four guys off the bench (Akok Akok, Jalen Gaffney, Jordan Hawkins and Tyler Polley) against Georgetown where they combined for 7-for-13 shooting, they took a step back in this one. The four shot a combined 2-for-13 on Saturday, including 0-for-9 from the three-point range.
There were a couple solid moments from the group, most notably a rare Polley jumper from two and an and-1 courtesy of Gaffney. So why keep forcing three-pointers all the time? It obviously works when the team is clicking like on Tuesday, but when it doesn’t, those bench guys need to have other reliable scoring methods. Look to guys like Cole, who changes up his style on off-nights by getting to the line rather than fire-up prayers.
Somebody that needs to perform at a higher level is Gaffney. He had a crafty bucket late in Saturday’s contest, but that basket was just his fourth in the past eight games, shooting 4-for-19 over that span. Gaffney currently has the lowest shooting percentage among starters and the four key bench players on the team with .345.
He’s definitely a talented player, it just looks like he’s trying to do too much at times by fouling too much, turning over the ball and forcing shots that aren’t there. If the Huskies commit to a big tournament run, they’re going to need more production from guys like Gaffney. Fortunately for him and the team, there’s still plenty of time for that ship to sail.
For all of the Huskies’ offensive struggles, the Blue Demons had plenty of their own. DePaul was without their star scorer, Javon Freeman-Liberty, for the fourth straight game. The Blue Demons surely could have used his 21 points per game of production in this one, shooting just 29% from the field.
“UConn is obviously a very talented team — they’re long, they’re athletic, they have depth,” DePaul head coach Tony Stubblefield said. “They got some putbacks that were really costly for us.”
While struggling a little on Saturday, the biggest takeaway for the Huskies is their five-game winning streak in the Big East. It wasn’t pretty, but they are consistently winning games they are favored to win, even on off-nights.
With a full plate ahead of them consisting of three ranked teams in the next four games, UConn needed this kind of experience as they push toward being conference champions. The Huskies are currently ranked third in the conference, trailing only Providence and powerhouse Villanova.
UConn’s next game is slated for Tuesday night at the XL Center, where the team takes on the Creighton Bluejays. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. and the contest will be broadcast live on FS1.