Looking back on the Wichita State double-overtime heartbreaker a year from now, there’s a good chance it could be known as “The Sidney Wilson Game.” All the narrative pieces are there for a breakout; seized opportunity and a lesson learned.
Sid the kid was everywhere on Sunday against Wichita State, posting 12 points, including two of three from downtown in a season-high 25 minutes. It wasn’t just his game-tying heroics or crowd-electrifying plays, although those are worth a revisit.
No, Wilson also turned in a plus/minus of 13 vs. the Shockers, the type of impact that’s critical at the forward position with Tyler Polley sidelined. And with UConn’s best three-point shooter gone, that role — and the consistent minutes that come with it — are up for grabs.
The uber athletic redshirt sophomore has had an up-and-down season, playing more than 15 minutes just three times and logging 20 minutes combined in the last three games prior to Sunday, including a DNP vs. Tulane. When he was out there, it was the same Sid; tantalizing plays around the rim, a little out of control at times and lapses on defensive rotations. It was that inconsistency that led to head coach Dan Hurley tightening the leash to start 2020.
But Wilson was in line for more burn even before Polley went down. He had responded to Hurley’s shortened rotation by practicing “like his life depended on it;” exactly the type of response coaches look for when issuing that sort of a challenge to a player.
“Sid practiced the last week with an intensity level you need to have,” Hurley said. “It showed up on the court with an intensity level like his life depended on it. I’m not just playing him because Tyler got hurt. He earned a chance on the court in practice and he he earned himself more minutes by the way he played when he was on the court.”
In his own words, Sid’s re-emergence was all about “working hard, staying low, and not letting it get to me mentally. The storm can’t last forever. If I keep working I’ll get my shot and today was the day.”
Senior captain and Christian Vital, a fellow New Yorker and Sid’s roommate, echoed the weather analogy.
“That’s my brother. I just kept telling him to stay with it,” Vital said. “You’re in a jam now but it can’t rain forever. When it stops, its your time to shine, and definitely brought it today.”
Going forward, imagine a small-ball beanpole lineup of Alterique Gilbert, Vital, James Bouknight, Wilson and Akok Akok. Below is that five’s adjusted offensive efficiency with only 11 possessions as a sample size, (Per HoopExplorer, who does amazing work).
That is a track meet starting five; shot-blocking and switchable athleticism in spades, despite the distinct size advantage. If Wilson (and Bouknight) can knock down at least one open look a game, the floor spacing Polley brought could roughly remain intact in his absence while also opening up driving lanes for UConn’s guards. And the energy plays Wilson brings — highlight-reel blocks and crashing the offensive glass — are a dire need for a UConn team that feeds off positive emotion.
“Losing Tyler, he’s a key piece for our team, it really hurt us.” lamented Wilson after the game. “He’ll still be able to push us throughout the season though, even when he’s hurt, and that will be some extra motivation for us.”
Hopefully that motivation leads to a much more sunny forecast for Sidney Wilson in the future.