Cole continues to show toughness for Huskies

Published on Monday, 31 January 2022 16:40

Journal Inquirer

R.J. Cole is, though he has some competition, the best scorer on the UConn men’s basketball team. Though it’s not a runaway, Cole is also the Huskies’ best passer.

But one category where Cole is far and away the top dog on his team, however, is in taking charges.

No one gets his feet set in position to draw offensive fouls like the graduate student from Union, New Jersey.

Even in the most physical of games, as 20th-ranked UConn’s 57-50 win over DePaul Saturday night at Wintrust Arena in Chicago was, Cole is not afraid to draw contact.

Cole took two more charges in what the Huskies’ fifth straight victory, giving him 17 this season.

If you think UConn coach Dan Hurley is going to tell Cole to start avoiding contact, like a football coach encouraging his quarterback to slide and avoid tackles, think again.

In fact, Hurley barely noticed when Cole went out of Saturday’s game with an injury.

“I think he caught like a contusion. I think he’s fine. I don’t know what happened to him. If I thought he was really hurt, I would have cared more,” Hurley said after the game. “But I was focused on the game mostly because he looked like he was OK.”

Hurley chuckled after his answer, realizing that it was a bit harsh, but the coach knows he’s got one tough lead guard guiding his team.

That was evident against DePaul when a number of Huskies were bruised or bloodied in the game. Cole, Isaiah Whaley, Jalen Gaffney, and Jordan Hawkins all spent time during the game receiving treatment from UConn trainer James Doran.

“These guys get after you. It was a really, really physical game. It was just one of those games where we had to find a way to gut it out,” Hurley said.

DePaul coach Tony Stubblefield admitted his team had to play a certain style if it had any chance against the more athletic Huskies.

“I told our guys we couldn’t let this get into a jumping contest. We weren’t going to win that,” Stubblefield said. “We had to be physical, try to get into their legs, not give up offensive rebounds.”

The plan worked to a large extent. Nearly all of UConn’s players were in an offensive funk throughout the game.

Well, all except Cole.

Cole scored 25 points, including 16 in the first half when seemingly no one else in a blue jersey could hit a shot.

“At halftime in the coach’s locker room, we were asking ‘Where else do we go but R.J.?’ It seemed that everyone was having a tough offensive night,” Hurley said.

UConn (15-4), which won a proverbial track meet with Georgetown in its previous game, did indeed have to get tough on Saturday.

And eventually it did.

A touchdown pass thrown by Andre Jackson to Adama Sanogo on the final play of the first half, which saw Sanogo hit a short jumper at the buzzer - a play slightly reminiscent of Scott Burrell’s game-winning heave to Tate George in the 1990 East Regional final against Clemson - gave the Huskies some life.

They then, to use Hurley’s words, went for every rebound like it was a life-or-death struggle. They also clamped down on defense to the nth degree.

DePaul’s 50 total points were the fewest by a UConn opponent in league play this season and the fewest by any Husky foe since LIU scored a mere 40 Nov. 17.

“We had to really rely on our defense and rebounding in the second half, really in both halves,” Hurley said. “Then obviously R.J. carried us on a night where we had a ton of guys just struggling individually offensively.”

It wasn’t pretty, but few Big East victories away from home are.

“Wish we would have played better but you’re never upset when you walk away with a road win in this league,” Hurley said.

Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Monday, 31 January 2022 16:40. Updated: Monday, 31 January 2022 16:43.