Even though the offense went cold in the second half, the UConn men’s basketball team did just enough to pick up its third win of the season in a 61-58 triumph over USC.
After 40 minutes against a quality opponent, here are some takeaways from the Huskies’ first game at the Legends Classic in Mohegan Sun.
Josh Carlton back?
Dan Madigan: After playing just three minutes in the first two games of the season, Josh Carlton put together a really impressive performance with nine points, 11 rebounds (six offensive) and a block against a really talented opposing frontcourt. He looked noticeably slimmed down and mobile compared to last season, but still had enough strength to bang with the Mobley brothers down low.
With Carlton’s re-emergence, the frontcourt could be a legitimate strength alongside Whaley’s steadiness and Sanogo’s complementary skillset. If Carlton can play at this level consistently, that is a formidable frontcourt trio for now. Oh, and Akok Akok, one of the country’s best shotblockers and a skilled big himself, should be back in about a month. If everything holds up, the Huskies will have a frontcourt that is a strength for the first time in years.
Aman: Carlton was, obviously, huge in this game. The defense in the paint held up relatively well, especially considering that NBA draft pick Evan Mobley was on the other team, and Carlton was a big part of that.
This is usually the kind of opponent that destroys UConn down low and on the glass. But the Huskies won the rebounding battle 42-31 and had a significant advantage in offensive (40.5% vs. 25%) and defensive (75% vs. 59.5%) rebounding percentage. It was a strong defensive effort overall for the Huskies, who held the Trojans to 35.8% shooting from the field and just 15.8% (3-of-19) from three.
UConn passes the next test
Aman: As Dan Hurley, and many others, have said, this is not a game that previous UConn teams would have won. Last year, they would have lost that second half lead. Two years ago, that comfy lead that got as high as 13 points may have never even existed. Ultimately, UConn played really well against a USC side that represented a significant increase in the level of competition from the first two games and, given the circumstances, that should be incredibly encouraging for Husky fans. UConn moved up from 53rd to 49th in KenPom as a result of the win and USC moved from 45th to 51st after losing.
Also, lots of credit to Isaiah Whaley and Tyrese Martin for keeping UConn afloat during the second half. Two key contributors and Whaley keeps impressing which is great.
R.J. Cole struggles
Madigan: Cole’s first game against a quality opponent wasn’t great. He scored six points on 2-8 shooting in just under 30 minutes. Cole likely has to be the secondary scoring option for this team in order to do damage in Big East play. Against USC, he looked a bit like he was struggling to adjust to the speed of the game and took a few shots out of rhythm instead of letting the game come to him.
Cole managed to chip in in other ways with four assists, just one turnover, and five rebounds, including the rebound that sealed the game. But it would have been nice to see Cole step up during that second-half offensive lull to take some pressure of Bouknight.
That being said, it is just one game, and Cole will have plenty of time to adjust. He’s a gifted scorer, but it might take a little longer than we thought this season for him to settle into that second-scorer role UConn needs him to be.