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Hurley: Akok ‘getting closer’ to return, but no official timetable

UConn men’s basketball head coach Dan Hurley spoke with media ahead of its game against Marquette Tuesday.

UConn men’s basketball’s Akok Akok during the Huskies win over Florida last season.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

For the first time this season, UConn men’s basketball is going to play a game outside of Connecticut. They have arrived in Milwaukee and will take on Marquette at the Fiserv Forum, where the Golden Eagles share a home court with the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Huskies (4-1, 1-1 Big East) will have their first matchup with Marquette since 2013, a reoccurring statistic for the team in their return to the Big East.

Ahead of their matchup with the Golden Eagles, head coach Dan Hurley spoke with media late Monday night.

Akok Akok update

UConn has been missing a key piece since the middle of last season in 6-9 big man Akok Akok. He went down last season against Memphis with a ruptured Achilles tendon, but he is looking good in practice and nearing a return, according to Hurley.

“He’s getting closer, he’s looking good,” Hurley said. “It’s hard to give a timeline, but he’s definitely getting closer. He looks good.”

Hurley would not commit to an exact date for Akok’s season debut but said that he wants to wait until he is mentally and physically ready to come back.

“There’s no get-well games in this league where you could bring a guy in and let him get his feet wet versus a bottom feeder in the league,” Hurley said.

Akok averaged the second-most minutes per game (28) for the Huskies last season before his injury.

Whaley foul trouble

While Akok has been out injured, senior Isaiah Whaley has largely picked up the slack. Whaley came to UConn’s rescue toward the end of last season and has been one of their most important pieces this season. He has struggled to stay in games lately, though, because of consistent foul trouble.

Hurley pointed to the empty stadiums as something to point to for Whaley’s struggles. The third-year UConn head coach categorized Whaley as a player that feeds off the home crowd.

“We need double figuring scoring and close to double-figure rebounds for him,” Hurley said of Whaley.

So far this season the Gastonia, North Carolina native has put up 8.2 points and 5.8 rebounds in 23.2 minutes per game.

Second scorer

One of UConn’s most pressing problems has been finding a second fiddle to James Bouknight’s 23.2 points per game. Bouknight – the No. 1 ranked player in KenPom’s Big East All-Conference rankings – has the highest usage rating in the conference (29.9).

The Huskies have just two other players with 10 or more points – R.J. Cole and Tyrese Martin – the latter of which has been a revelation in his first season in Storrs. Martin has been swallowing up boards and throwing down vicious dunks.

“You don’t want to be a one-hit-wonder,” Hurley said Monday. “You want to show consistency and become a reliable double-figure scorer and a lock-down defender and a guy that just eats glass. So, it’s a big game for Tyrese to prove that at this level he could do it back to back nights in the Big East.”

Cole has shown promise but hasn’t quite found his shooting form in the early goings of the season. He has hit on 33% of his field goals and 34.5% of his 3-point attempts so far. He has dished nearly four assists per game, though, as the team’s starting point guard.

Both players are the leading candidates now to fill that second-scorer role for UConn. Unless Whaley can stay out of foul trouble or Tyler Polley can continue to progress as he returns from his knee injury, Martin and Cole will likely need to share the bulk of UConn’s scoring load outside of what Bouknight can contribute.