If you wanted to know how excited fans were to watch some UConn basketball, look no further than a packed Gampel Pavilion as the team battled the Oklahoma State Cowboys, a sold-out student section with some fans who had waited since that morning and the sheer excitement of the entire building.
“They were out there before I even got here. I mean they beat me to the game,” said UConn coach Dan Hurley.
It was natural to expect a positive outcome of the game, especially after the Huskies rose tremendously in the AP poll after having a dominant performance in the PK85 tournament, especially against ranked opponents. Instead, while many of those performances looked completely dominant, as in their Oregon matchups, this was a close contest as halftime neared. The team was going to need someone to step up to the difficult challenge that stood before them.
On the scoring end, that just happened to be Jordan Hawkins, who proved to be the most lethal shooter on the court last night with 26 points and five three-pointers. He simply couldn’t be stopped on the offensive end and delivered quite a memorable performance. OSU coach Mike Boynton said that Hawkins reminded him of UConn legends Rip Hamilton and Ray Allen. With how great Hawkins’ jump shot looked through the contest, the compliment certainly was fitting.
When it came down to under six minutes in the first half, he became the first part of a 10-0 run that put the team up 28-40, a strong offensive showcase that would continue into halftime. The No. 6 team in the entire country was showing their true colors and scouts were in attendance to watch the showcase, especially Hawkins.
“You just have that confidence in you,” said Hawkins.
Scouts also saw junior Andre Jackson and his complete skillset on the court, as he was a key factor in keeping the team in the game. He’d dive for loose balls and take steals coast to coast for incredible dunks. His leadership kept the team in front despite the potential to crumble. Most notably, on UConn’s first possession, Jackson shook the entire building with an alley-oop dunk that had all eyes on him. While it may have counted for just two points, it certainly gave fans plenty to talk about.
“It was all just coach Hurley. We ran through that play before the game even started and that was the biggest thing,” said Jackson.
During the entire showcase, the team was simply focused on Husky basketball. Even when the Cowboys refused to give up and continued to push for a close victory, UConn never let up their lead and pushed toward a late victory, a symbol of strength for a program that had yet to lose a game against non-conference competition.
But, what Hurley learned about his group in the double-digit victory was to have more confidence in his team. He felt agitated prior to Thursday’s victory, yet his team came through and showed how strong they truly are against a difficult opponent.
“To get that type of separation versus that team and be able to keep it double-digits, I believe in this team,” said Hurley.
The team now has some time to take a breath from a series of tough games before they go on the road to take on Florida. The Huskies will have plenty of rest and, most importantly, plenty of confidence on a roster that has shown they deserve plenty of praise.