Here are some takeaways from the Huskies’ win over the Blue Demons last night.
James Bouknight: Still Ballin’
Dan Madigan: James Bouknight did it again. It wasn't a 40-burger against a top-10 team like last game, but it was yet another impressive performance and a sign of consistency for the sophomore star. He scored 20 points on 13 field goal attempts and showed why he’s a rising prospect in the 2021 NBA Draft class. While he didn’t hit a 3-pointer on four attempts, he hit an array of tough shots and found his way to the free-throw line.
We’d like to see him shooting a bit more, to be honest, but his efficiency and shot-making ability are great. Even amid all of the craziness, UConn fans shouldn’t take this season from Bouknight for granted. He’s a special player and transforming into a superstar in front of our eyes.
UConn needs a better plan in the paint
Patrick Martin: I’ll throw some cold water on all these good vibes. Our backcourt and wings need a better plan when attacking the paint. Jalen Gaffney, Brendan Adams, RJ Cole, and even Bouknight all were guilty of this last night. They’d beat the first defender, then put their head down and throw up a weak attempt at the rim when the defense collapsed. Kudos to being aggressive and trying to draw a foul, but more disciplined teams (i.e. Providence or Villanova) are adept at contesting without fouling. It’s also never a solid strategy to rely on consistent foul-calling from NCAA refs.
There are a few ways to remedy this. A pump fake to get the shot blocker in the air. Cutters on the perimeter for kick-outs (Tyler Polley is pretty good at this already). A more composed and stronger move (Tyrese Martin is pretty good at this). This is the next step in the evolution of UConn’s offense. We saw glimpses of crisp east-west ball movement yesterday. But to beat the elite, efficient north-south ball movement is critical.
The benefits of depth
Martin: The Huskies’ depth is as advertised, and it is such a welcome sight. Adama Sanogo looked like Kofi Cockburn 2.0 a few games in, and then here comes a snarling, trash-talking Josh Carlton reclaiming his spot. Adams, Gaffney, or Cole could give you 20 points on a hot night. Wednesday was Tyrese Martin’s night.
Every position has someone waiting in the wings ready to step up if those ahead of them underperform. What does that mean? The hot hand could come from anyone. It will often be matchup or foul-trouble dependent, but Hurley will have to really have his finger on the pulse of the team to figure out nightly who his second scorer will be. Case in point: in the five games so far this year, three players have been second to Bouknight in scoring, and seven (!) have already logged double-digit scoring in a game.
And in case you forgot, a certain someone who was 12th in the country in blocked shots last year is nearing his triumphant return in Akok Akok.
Madigan: My turn to throw some cold water. Yes, it’s definitely good to see a ton of different players step up to be “the guy” alongside Bouknight on a game-by-game basis, but this team still needs more consistency after its star. RJ Cole hasn’t done enough to own that second scorer’s role yet. Martin was impressive Wednesday but I’m not totally sure he can be relied upon to create his own shot with Bouknight on the bench. Maybe it’s Cole, maybe it will be Tyler Polley or maybe it’s Akok or one of the other bigs. But some consistency outside of Bouknight could make this team very scary in conference play. This is easier said than done in this wild season with week-long layoffs and impromptu games and cancellations but it’s still something worth striving for.
Tyrese Martin Arrives
Luke Swanson: It took Martin a few games to get off the ground — a combined 4-13 shooting in his first two games as a starter against USC and Creighton — and UConn fans could be forgiven if they thought that he would end up taking a back seat to the more exciting backcourt options of the team.
But Martin punted all of his haters to the moon on Wednesday night, taking control of the game and showing that even when Bouknight can’t take over, the Huskies have options to pick up the scoring slack. Martin had a 22 and 10 double-double, making 9-15 shots, including 2-3 beyond the arc. He’s solid defensively and looks every bit the polished college player that Hurley brought him in to be.
Madigan: Even though this is the first game he’s really contributed as a scorer, I’ve been really impressed with Martin this season. He’s got great size and really uses it, providing some sorely-needed physicality in the backcourt on defense and on the boards — he’s the heir to the throne in terms of great rebounding UConn guards. I love the way he gets out in transition for easy buckets and finds open spots on the perimeter in the half court. I don’t think he’s going to be a consistent double-digit scorer for this team, but if just continues to play hard-nosed defense and be a presence on the boards, he’ll be a great piece for the Huskies in Big East play and beyond.