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Hurley: Huskies need to rely on veterans after COVID-19

The Huskies younger players have struggled in early going with the program’s irregular schedule.

UConn men’s basketball’s Josh Carlton will need to repeat his impressive performance against USC if they are to beat No. 9 Creighton.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

The climb from high school and AAU to playing college basketball in the Big East is an arduous one. Not having the luxury of practicing or playing with your team for weeks at a time just pushes those climbing holds out a bit further than is comfortable.

“We need Josh [Carlton],” UConn men’s basketball’s head coach Dan Hurley said on the senior center. “We need our older guys right now.”

UConn hasn’t played a game since Dec. 3 against USC, where Carlton made his presence known after struggling to cement his place in this UConn rotation in the first two games. He finished with nine points and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes off the bench for the Huskies.

UConn has canceled or postponed four of their first seven games this season and have yet to play a conference game. Their first game in their new conference will be Dec. 20 against No. 9 Creighton.

The Big East is the only conference in the country that does not have a team that ranks outside the top-100 in KenPom’s ranking. It is going to take contributions from every piece of the roster in order to be competitive in this league, and that’s not a guarantee with the way this season has worked out so far for the Huskies.

“You watch these games and you see how hard it is to win a game that’s maybe the best conference in the country, top two or three at the worst,” Hurley said.

The team’s fate against Creighton will rest in the hands of their more experienced players, like Carlton, Isaiah Whaley, R.J. Cole, James Bouknight and Jalen Gaffney. Those five players have accounted for 69% of UConn’s points this season. The lack of playing time has not given young players on UConn’s roster enough time on the court to put it all together.

“The pauses and the lack of games has really, really stunted their development and their ability to really help us the way I think that they would be able to help us under normal conditions,” Hurley said.

UConn’s top recruit Andre Jackson has shown flashes of brilliance on the defensive end, but he’s looked lost out on the court at times, especially on offense. After a decent performance against CCSU in the opener, he played just nine combined minutes against USC and Hartford. His only stats against the Hawks were three personal fouls and a block.

Center Adama Sanogo opened the season with a pair of strong showings off the bench against CCSU and Hartford. He didn’t have as much of an opportunity with Carlton gobbling up a majority of the center minutes against USC, but he’s shown a high motor and the ability to grab offensive boards so far this season.

None of the other freshmen have played enough to get a real feel of their role on this team to this point.

Other notes:

  • UConn could be without senior Tyler Polley against Creighton for an undisclosed reason, but Hurley said there will be more clarity on his situation Sunday. Hurley said it did not have to do with the knee injury he had sustained last season.
  • UConn’s game against DePaul was postponed because of the program was advised by the Connecticut Department of Public Health not to play teams if they are still with 14 days of its last positive test, according to a team release. The Blue Demons will play Western Illinois on that date instead.