Coming into an early afternoon matchup at the XL Center, the University of Connecticut desperately needed a win after dropping five of its last six games in Big East action. That streak of poor play was capped with a loss on the road at Seton Hall in which the team had led by as much as 17 points in the first half. To cap it all off, they were without two key leaders in coach Dan Hurley and coach Kimani Young due to the COVID-19 virus.
After the Seton Hall loss, fans were quick to voice their concern for a team that had looked like one of the top in the country just a few weeks ago. Plenty of issues arose, yet the team worked to remain confident and strong.
“We love our fans to death, but anything outside the locker room that’s negative, we don’t really listen to it,” said guard Jordan Hawkins.
When Hurley was able to return, he described the scene as, “dogs at an animal shelter.” He had to help build the team’s confidence and thanks to the help of a video that included clips from the movie Any Given Sunday and poor play from a rough stretch of Big East games, that confidence started to rise.
“This time, we really needed it,” said Hawkins. “It was really an inspirational video. I listened to it this morning when I brushed my teeth to remind me of the hard times and keep on fighting.”
It culminated in a performance on Sunday that resembled the old Huskies, a team that rose to as high as no. 2 in the nation according to the men’s basketball A.P. poll. It was done in front of a sold-out crowd and against a program that the Huskies had dominated early in the season. Yet, despite that early Big East win, the past few games for the Huskies showed a different squad, a group of players that had not shown the energy, toughness and swagger that had saw them go undefeated.
All of that was back on Sunday, especially their defense. Butler shot just 17-52 from the field and the team couldn’t find many easy shots all game. The pinnacle of the Bulldogs scoring woes came with a long offensive drought that lasted over five minutes of action. It looked like UConn came to play and as the team’s defense stumped Butler’s mojo on offense, the Huskies started to gain momentum on offense.
Jordan Hawkins was making his shots. Twenty points on 7-14 shooting were big for a lineup that depends on the sophomore guard for big-time shots. Pair that with Adama Sanogo, who contributed 17 points and 14 rebounds, and the Huskies are going to be ready to do some damage.
Although the numbers are great from a stat sheet perspective, it only tells some of the story. There were highlights like Donovan Clingan’s brilliant pass to Alex Karaban for a finish at the rim. Andre Jackson made an impact on the defensive end and put forth the hustle and energy that makes him such a highly regarded prospect. Hassan Diarra, known as a guy to give you a spark off the bench, did just that on both sides of the ball.
With a large lead that continued to remain strong as the game progressed, Samson Johnson stepped on the hardwood for the first time since the beginning of the season after recovering from a left foot injury. The XL Center was loud for his return and with Johnson ready to ease back into a talented lineup of players, this may only be the beginning of a successful stretch for UConn men’s basketball.