STORRS - The UConn menâ€™s basketball team wonâ€™t have to play without its starting point guard at the end of every game.
But there will certainly be times, whether because of foul trouble or myriad of other reasons, the Huskies will have to take the court without R.J. Cole.
Cole is, for lack of a better term, the Huskiesâ€™ lead dog. And although he plays by far the most minutes on the team, UConn still must find a way to execute without him.
The Huskies, who host St. Johnâ€™s tonight (8:30 p.m., FS1) at Gampel Pavilion, are coming off a game in which Coleâ€™s absence was notable. UConn dropped a 90-87 overtime decision to Seton Hall Saturday, turning the ball over on the gameâ€™s decisive play after Cole had fouled out.
The most obvious man for UConn (10-4, 1-2 Big East) to rely on when Cole takes a breather or is forced to the bench for some reason, is Jalen Gaffney. But the junior guard is going through a rough patch recently.
Gaffney is averaging 6.7 points this season and is second on the team with 43 assists. But heâ€™s scored a total of six points over the last three games, and has struggled defensively at times, too.
â€śItâ€™s an important time for him to step up and step forward and play better,â€ť UConn coach Dan Hurley said of Gaffney. â€śI wouldnâ€™t have imagined, going into the year, in two games where he wasnâ€™t hurt or in foul trouble him playing eight or nine minutes a game. I would have imagined a much bigger role based on where we hoped things would be.â€ť
Indeed, after playing between 13 and 29 minutes through the teamâ€™s first 12 games, Gaffney has played only seven and 11 minutes, respectively, in the last two.
Hurley points out there is plenty of time left in the season for Gaffney and the Huskies, of course.
â€śJust like this team, he has a chance to accomplish everything he wants to accomplish. We have so many games left,â€ť Hurley said. â€śHe can still have the type of year that he wants. But heâ€™s got to do it now.â€ť
St. Johnâ€™s (9-4, 1-1) presents quite a challenge for Gaffney and all the UConn guards. Coach Mike Andersonâ€™s team likes to apply plenty of pressure and the Huskies have already shown a propensity for turnovers.
Freshman Rahsool Diggins, the other point guard on the UConn roster in addition to Cole and Gaffney, has not played since a Dec. 4 win over Grambling.
Hurley scoffs at the notion that heâ€™s holding anyone on the roster back from an opportunity.
â€śThereâ€™s no politics in minutes. If thereâ€™s a guy that was killing it in practice, there would be a mutiny on this ship if I was holding a guy back,â€ť Hurley said. â€śThroughout my career as a coach, Iâ€™ve played freshmen. Started them, played them in significant roles through a multitude of places Iâ€™ve been.â€ť
Hurley points out that around the Big East and much of the country, college basketball teams are older. Many players have taken advantage of the NCAAâ€™s allowance for an extra year of play because of COVID, and fewer freshmen are playing this season.
He says he has preached patience to the freshmen on his team.
â€śYou have to be patient and become a good player, force your way out on the court by how you show up to practice every day,â€ť Hurley said.
â€śI wish I was more comfortable with the way some of the guys had been playing off the bench to give them more minutes so we would have had a little bit more legs to close (games).â€ť
SATURDAYâ€™S GAME IN LIMBO
Providenceâ€™s scheduled game with Creighton Tuesday night was wiped out because of COVID issues in the Friarsâ€™ program. That news would seem to indicate the Huskiesâ€™ game at Providence Saturday is unlikely to be played.
Itâ€™s unclear how many Providence players tested positive and if the Friars will have enough scholarship players to take the court against the Huskies Saturday at the Dunkinâ€™ Donuts Center.
UConn has already seen two of its games postponed due to COVID issues in its program this season.