After winning their first three games with ease, the No. 25 UConn men’s basketball team looks to keep that trend going when they take on UNC-Wilmington on Friday night and Delaware State on Sunday evening.
The Huskies (3-0) have made quick work of opponents Stonehill, Boston University and Buffalo in the first three legs of a five-game homestand. Amidst the upset across the college basketball landscape in earlier games and injuries ravaging the team, Connecticut head coach Dan Hurley has been impressed with his squad’s ability to walk away with convincing wins.
“To have [the lead] to 26 with 10 minutes to go in the second half missing two of your best players, and a guy [Adama Sanogo] that was playing great for you before [with an off-night], I feel good about how we played today,” remarked Hurley after the Buffalo game.
Injuries have been quite the topic for the Huskies early on in the season, with key returners Andre Jackson and Jordan Hawkins both out for the past two games with a pinky finger and head injury respectively. Also injured is starting forward Samson Johnson, dealing with a foot issue. Johnson was seen at Tuesday’s game in a walking boot and has been designated by Hurley as out for “weeks.”
However, some good news for UConn came on Thursday, when the team announced that both Jackson and Hawkins were participating in live activities in practice. Hawkins is set to return to action on Friday, while Jackson is designated as a game-time decision.
One weak spot for the Huskies this year has been their three-point shooting, as the team is hitting the deep ball at less than a 31 percent clip, good for 229th in all of Division I basketball. With proven shooters like Jackson and Hawkins set to return soon, that number is sure to pick up. In terms of the rest of the guys, particularly the still-adapting transfers, Hurley thinks the shots will soon fall in.
“We couldn’t make open threes [Tuesday night], I thought we had a bunch of them. I thought Nahiem [Alleyne] had some good looks, Tristen [Newton] had a couple of good looks. The more we play in [the XL Center] the better we’ll shoot.”
Both of these guys have made up for their lack of shooting success in other ways, Alleyne through his tough defense and Newton with his aggressiveness at the rim. Newton has drawn 20 fouls in his first three games as a Husky, taking 31 foul shots.
“I can’t make a shot right now,” said Newton. “I don’t know what’s going on, so I have to just get to the rim, be aggressive, go up strong. That’s what they preach in practice and in games… don’t look for the foul, just go up, take the contact and try to finish.”
On Tuesday, Newton competed like the player Hurley saw when he snagged him from the transfer portal, finishing with 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds – the first triple-double in the program since Daniel Hamilton in 2015. He looks to build upon this performance on Friday and Sunday.
“The first game, I played terrible,” acknowledged Newton. “The second game, I played bad. [The third game] I feel like I played better than that so every game is going to get better and better and my confidence is gonna grow and I’ll do what they brought me here to do.”
Preseason Big East Player of the Year Sanogo is coming off of his worst game of the early season, finishing 4-for-11 with 11 points and six rebounds. While he was playing at a Hurley-described “All-American” level for the first two contests of the year, Sanogo couldn’t seem to find his footing in an off night for the forward. The big man looks to bounce back against weak Seahawks and Hornets squads.
UNC-Wilmington (1-2, 212th in the KenPom ratings) may have a losing record, but they’ve played some tough competition, falling to No. 1 North Carolina and Oklahoma on the road. The bulk of the Seahawks’ offense runs through sophomore forward Trazarien White, putting up 17 or more points in all three of the team’s contests. He’s the only Seahawk to currently average double-digit scoring.
Delaware State (1-2, 361st in the KenPom ratings) is in a similar position. The Hornets fell at Virginia Tech before putting up a fight at Finneran Pavilion, leading Villanova at half before falling by 10 points. The HBCU program is led by a two-headed monster attack from senior forward Brandon Stone and sophomore guard Khyrie Staten, averaging 16.3 and 15.7 points per game, respectively.
Friday’s late-night matchup with UNC-Wilmington is set for 8:30 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion, and will be broadcast live on FS2. Sunday’s game will be played at 5 p.m. at the XL Center, and will be broadcast live on FS1.