The No. 2 UConn men’s basketball team certainly didn’t look like one of the top dogs in the country in the first half of Tuesday’s win.
It all began from tipoff. There was reason for the Huskies to be confident as they’d be playing the 5-7 Georgetown Hoyas with their home audience ready to support them. The attitude in the building felt different. One former Husky wasn’t wearing the blue and white for this matchup. That was Akok Akok, the transfer forward who’d be donning a different jersey.
Drama between Akok and current Husky Andre Jackson had been brewing since the offseason. Both players traded small jabs on Instagram when Akok elected to transfer to a different team. All possible fuel had been added to the fire. Now, both players had the opportunity to grab a victory at Gampel Pavilion. For UConn, it meant staying undefeated and continuing an incredible stretch of basketball. For Georgetown, it meant grabbing a massive upset against one of the top teams in college basketball.
At the start, it looked like the Hoyas had the upper hand. It was a closer matchup than many had thought as the team played with energy and fight. They outrebounded the Huskies 18-10 in the first half. Their offense made tough shot after tough shot with a team shooting percentage of 53.3%. Primo Spears, who grew up in Hartford and graduated from Windsor High School, looked phenomenal as he grabbed 10 points by the break.
“We didn’t have the disruption at the defensive end. We allowed them to get way too comfortable,” said Coach Dan Hurley postgame.
The Hoyas may have been down by seven points at halftime, but they stayed close against one of the top teams in the nation. That’s already a tall task, but when the second half began, they showed what they were truly capable of.
They made work of a hard-nosed UConn defense and Spears himself continued the performance he showed in the first half, grabbing a few tough buckets in the paint. An alley-oop pass from Spears to Akok gave the Hoyas and coach Patrick Ewing plenty of added momentum. They led 58-51 and Georgetown put UConn in grave danger. But, just as the Hoyas’ confidence was the highest, Coach Hurley knew the Huskies had to kick it into high gear.
That’s where Joey Calcaterra and Hassan Diarra came in.
Despite having zero points in the first half, the man dubbed “Joey California” by Huskies fans had 14 points as he added a huge shooting boost with clutch buckets in the paint, a beautiful dish to Donovan Clingan, and a signature 3-pointer. Diarra added a tough layup in the paint and a clutch 3-pointer to give the Huskies the lead.
“He’s got a high level of self belief. He wants in. He’s not afraid to take important shots,” Hurley said on Calcaterra.
Just like that, Connecticut was right back in the driver’s seat with a 68-62 lead. From there, UConn didn’t take their foot off the gas and for every bucket that the Hoyas were able to sink, the Huskies retaliated. For every Spears bucket in the paint or Qudus Wahab free throw, UConn fired right back with shots from guys like Calcaterra, Jordan Hawkins, or Tristen Newton.
But, while it may not have been pretty, Connecticut’s victory on the scoreboard looked similar to their previous wins on the schedule. It was another double-digit win and a fantastic second-half performance. After the game, Jackson and Akok shook hands and expressed respect for each other. Jackson’s night was another fantastic one, as the guard filled up the stat sheet with seven points, eight assists and eight rebounds, a representation of the complete basketball player that has made him such a crucial option for UConn this season. Akok’s statline was solid too, grabbing 10 points and five rebounds in his return to Gampel Pavilion.
Through a tough Tuesday night battle, where many teams would fold even in front of their home crowd, UConn men’s basketball showed their true colors. The team is 13-0 and No. 1 in the KenPom ratings. If there’s one thing for certain, the Huskies are ready for any challenge in college basketball that’s thrown their way.
“When it was time to decide for us how we wanted to feel going into the holidays, you can’t afford to lose a home game like this today and win the regular season. Losing a game like this at home comes back to get you in late February and March and we responded,” said Coach Hurley.