UConn men's basketball offense continues to struggle in Bouknight's absence

Published on Thursday, 11 February 2021 20:20
Written by Neil Ostrout

Journal Inquirer

The UConn men’s basketball team is doing a lot of waiting these days.

They’re waiting for James Bouknight to return to the court.

And while they do, they’re doing a lot of waiting around at the offensive end of the court, perhaps expecting the sophomore star to suddenly throw on a uniform and burst off the bench.

Wednesday’s clash at Providence was the Huskies’ seventh game Bouknight has missed since injuring his elbow. And the 70-59 loss to the Friars was the Huskies’ fourth in their last five games.

As Bouknight’s return nears - many fans were certain he would return Wednesday, and coach Dan Hurley seemed to indicate before the game he was close to doing so - the Huskies are getting worse.

Their offense is, perhaps somewhat predictably without Bouknight, very stagnant. Their defense, however, is slipping as of late, too.

Providence was able to take control down the stretch Wednesday, blitzing the Huskies soon after halftime and scoring 12 of the game’s final 16 points.

It was the 73rd meeting between the New England neighbors, but it produced a game film the Huskies would like to 86.

“In a game of two teams that were in desperate need of a win, they played better and they were tougher,” Hurley said.

It takes a lot for Hurley, who prides himself and his teams on their toughness, to admit his current group is losing such battles.

“We better get a lot tougher. And we better get back to playing much better defense,” Hurley said.

The latest loss puts UConn 8-5 overall, including 5-5 in the Big East. It also put the Huskies in an even more dour state.

“A pretty demoralized group right now,” Hurley said. “And it doesn’t get any easier.”

It would, of course, if Bouknight were to get back in action immediately. But the head coach isn’t being overly forthright with his star’s prognosis.

Although he characterized Bouknight’s status prior to Wednesday’s clash as a “game time decision,” Hurley said after the game that Bouknight was “not close” to playing against the Friars.

“He needs more time,” the coach said.

The problem in the coach’s confusing verbiage aside, some of the problem may lie in the fact that Bouknight’s surgeon is not affiliated with UConn.

Bouknight went to New York to have his surgery, as opposed to a procedure at the UConn Health Center in Farmington. It’s not UConn trainers or medical staff making the decision on whether or not Bouknight plays, Hurley insists, but Bouknight’s New York-based surgeon.

“The surgeon made the decision to shut him down longer,” Hurley said.

While he waits for his star with NBA aspirations to be cleared, Hurley is seeing that his team’s offense has a tough time performing without Bouknight.

“We have a lot of guys that are struggling with their confidence offensively. Bouknight disguised a lot of our deficiencies at that end of the court,” Hurley said.

Point guard play has been especially spotty since Bouknight’s exit, which led Hurley to bench R.J. Cole at the start of Wednesday’s game in favor of Jalen Gaffney.

“In the position we’re in now, we need much more from the point guard position,” Hurley said. “We were rewarding Jalen for a really strong offensive game the last time out and also trying to send R.J. a message that we need a lot more from him.”

It worked, for a time. Cole had 10 points and five assists in the first half as UConn took a one-point lead into the half.

But Cole, like many of the Huskies, struggled in the second half.

No one struggled more than Tyler Polley. The UConn senior, who like Gaffney was given a starting spot for the first time since November, made only one of his first 11 shots from the floor and finished 2-for-12.

“I thought Tyler got seven or eight great looks from 3,” Hurley said. “He made one.”

To his credit, Polley didn’t wait around too much. He moved better without the basketball than he did in previous games, but simply couldn’t connect.

And yes, freshmen Adama Sanogo and Andre Jackson both showed flashes that prove they belong in the Big East and could help produce majorly meaningful victories in the future for the Huskies.

But too many of the Huskies are merely waiting.

“Our guards were brutal against the three-quarter-court pressure. It was taking us forever to get into something. It was really incredible,” Hurley said.



Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Thursday, 11 February 2021 20:20. Updated: Thursday, 11 February 2021 20:22.