For the first time in years, the UConn men and women are playing a doubleheader. This time, the Huskies are a part of the Never Forget Tribute Classic, where the women kick things off against UCLA and the men follow with a matchup against St. Bonaventure.
How to watch
When: Saturday, Dec. 11 at 1 p.m. (women) and 4 p.m. (men)
Where: Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey
TV: ABC (women), ESPN2 (men)
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Her Hoop Stats Predicted Score: UConn 71, UCLA 60
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 71, St. Bonaventure 68
No. 3 UConn women’s basketball vs. UCLA | 1 p.m. on ABC
UConn has a quick turnaround from Thursday night’s loss to Georgia Tech, with another tough test against UCLA on Saturday afternoon. The Bruins are unranked, but Her Hoop Stats places them as the 32nd best team in the country in their rankings, leaving them not far outside of the top 25.
The Bruins are 4-2 on the season so far, and have been riddled by injuries this season just like the Huskies. They are without Emily Bessoir, who who have provided the size UCLA is lacking the post, and transfers Gina Conti and Angela Dugalic, who figure to be key pieces in the rotation when they return.
Even with the missing pieces, the Bruins boast one of the more efficient offenses in the country. UCLA has scored 0.94 points per play this season (which accounts for field goals, free throws and turnovers), which ranks 12th in the nation per Her Hoop Stats. While the Bruins’ strength of schedule does leave something to be desired, their elite 3-point shooting is likely to hold up regardless of the opponent and the Huskies can’t lose site of UCLA’s guards on the perimeter.
At the core of the Bruins offense is Charisma Osborne, the Bruin’s second leading scorer (17.4 points per game). Osborne also leads the team in assists and defensive rebounds, and is one of the country’s best rebounding guards despite standing at just 5-foot-9. She’s also knocking down nearly three triples per game and is also a dynamic guard that can create her own shots from virtually anywhere on the floor. She also has a knack for stepping up in the biggest moments, so it’s safe to expect a big outing from her against UConn.
Iimar’i Thomas is the Bruins’ leading scorer with 18.8 points per game. Thomas, a grad transfer from Cincinnati, is a familiar opponent for the Huskies’ AAC days. She ranked among the top 10 in points per game last season, and has continued to score at a high clip for the Bruins, making her and Osborne one of the top duos in the Pac-12. Thomas’ presence is felt most on the inside, where she’s a very efficient 65.7 percent from the floor thus far this season.
In addition to Osborne and Thomas, UConn needs to keep an eye on Natalie Chou and Jaelynn Penn, both of whom are averaging double figures on the season. Chou in particular is a big threat from deep, shooting 48 percent from beyond the arc so far this season on 27 attempts, and coming off a 31 point performance on 6-9 shooting on triples in the Bruins’ last outing.
Overall, the Bruins will provide a good defensive test for a Paige Bueckers-less UConn, that should give a good indication of where the Huskies stand on that end of the floor. If UConn can lock down the Bruins on defense, there will be less pressure to score against a UCLA team who’s defensive numbers don’t jump off the page - which could be a recipe for success.
Keys to the Game for the Huskies
Use the size advantage in the paint: UCLA’s tallest starter is 6-foot-1, and their only player that stands above 6-foot-2 is Izzy Anstey, a redshirt freshman from Australia. UConn should have the clear size advantage in the paint in this game, and should use it on the offensive end to pound the ball inside, especially if we see Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Aaliyah Edwards and Dorka Juhász on the floor together.
Additionally, Edwards and Juhász were a combined 1-10 from the floor in the loss to Georgia Tech. UConn needs more on the offensive end from them in the absence of Bueckers (as well as Fudd, Griffin and Muhl). With a clear size advantage, hopefully this game can serve as a confidence booster for both players.
Crash the offensive glass: UConn actually did a decent job on the offensive glass on Thursday, picking up 11 offensive boards in the game, but only turned them into two points. Given the shooting woes from the floor, the Huskies will need to continue finding second chance opportunities and try to capitalize on them more efficiently.
This could be a tough task against UCLA, as the Bruins lead the country in defensive rebounding rate. If UConn finds success on the offensive glass in this one, I think it’s safe to say we can stop worrying about that aspect of their game.
Guard the perimeter: The Huskies will need to run UCLA’s guards off the perimeter in this game. The Bruins are averaging over seven made triples per game and knocked down 11 shots from deep in their last outing. If UConn can hold them below their season average from deep, their job on the offensive end will be much easier.
Limit turnovers: In the loss to Georgia Tech, Christyn Williams and Evina Westbrook combined for seven turnovers. While that’s not all that surprising given this was their first outing without Bueckers, who has been the Huskies’ primary ball handler, they’ll need to look to clean that up in this game. For as good as Osborne is on the offensive end, she might be even better defensively. If UConn’s guards don’t take good care of the ball, Osborne will absolutely exploit that.
No. 15 UConn men’s basketball vs. St. Bonaventure | 4 p.m. on ESPN2
UConn will again potentially be without two starters as they head to New Jersey to take on the 8-1 St. Bonaventure Bonnies out of the Atlantic 10 conference. Tyrese Martin (wrist) is a game time decision, but big man Adam Sanogo (abdominal strain) will likely be out for another couple weeks.
The Huskies have risen to No. 15 in the country after an impressive trip to the Bahamas and some help from other top 20 teams losing, but after dropping a tough one on the road at West Virginia, their second loss of the season, the Huskies are in dire need of another signature win to keep them within the confines of the AP poll. A loss here could see them fall out of the rankings.
After winning the A-10 tournament last year but subsequently bowing out in the first round of the NCAA’s to a hot shooting LSU team, St. Bonaventure returns five rising seniors that have carried some of that momentum into this season, as they currently sit alone atop the Atlantic 10. The Bonnies started the season ranked No. 22, one spot above UConn, but have since fallen out of the Top 25 due to a double digit home loss to Northern Iowa. There’s no doubt they are hungry for a win against a top 25 team to prove they belong amongst the best teams in the country.
When UConn has the ball
The last contest against West Virginia was an offensive struggle for the Huskies. They scored a mere 53 points, and and shot 39% from the floor. No one appeared able to develop any sort of offensive rhythm throughout, except RJ Cole at times. There’s no question that the offense without Martin and Sanogo still needs to be figured out. Martin’s ability to gobble up offensive boards, slash to the basket, and ignite the break effectively, as well as Sanogo’s always reliable post arsenal were severely missed in Morgantown. This isn’t necessarily a surprise, but UConn has the skill and depth to be able to overcome those losses. This is where they may have a leg up on St. Bonaventure.
While the Bonnies sport one of the most complete starting fives in college ball, the same cannot be said about the bench. All five senior starters average 29 or more minutes per game, but the next closest man comes in at 12.9. This is the most significant drop in all of college basketball, as St. Bonaventure is dead last in the country in share of minutes played by the bench (16.5%) according to KenPom. On the other hand, UConn ranks 59th in this category, going about nine-deep most of the time. They went with an eight man rotation in the last game with the losses of Sanogo and Martin, and the emergence of Samson Johnson, but this is still a serious advantage for the Huskies.
Again, the sample size without Sanogo and Martin is very small, but it is not necessarily promising. Having a dominant post player unavailable completely changes the offense, especially in the half court. Because of this, UConn will likely look to get out and run even more than they already do, attempting to speed up the game and catch St. Bonaventure out of position which will hopefully led to some easy buckets down the floor. Andre Jackson has shown a knack of igniting this facet of the offense thus far, and even though he got sped up a bit too much against West Virginia, the Huskies could benefit from him being aggressive and take on a larger offensive role moving forward, even in half-court situations.
Look for Hurley to also continue running sets to free up Jordan Hawkins. Hawkins got a plethora of clean looks in the West Virginia game and didn’t hit any of them, but that was his first true college road game. You can say it was nerves or just one of those nights for Hawkins, but he is the true x-factor for this UConn team and will be reliabled upon more with UConn’s current offensive deficiencies. Although he was 0-7 from the floor, I would put money on Hawkins not putting up another donut in the field goal column for the rest of his time at UConn. He needs his confidence back, and has a chance to regain it here in another big time, nationally-televised game.
Just because Hurley is missing two of his best players doesn’t mean he needs to completely over-complicate the offense. More pick and roll action from Cole and Whaley, or when Andre Jackson or Jalen Gaffney are handling the rock might be the key to getting this offense going. All three guards are skilled downhill drivers who like to create havoc in the middle. If they can avoid the hedge and beat their man off the screen, they can collapse the defense and get open shots for Tyler Polley, Hawkins, or even Akok Akok on the perimeter. UConn actually did a decent job of this in the West Virginia game, but they just couldn’t knock any of them down. If they want to beat St. Bonaventure, the Huskies will undoubtedly have to improve upon the abysmal 3-14 (14.3%) long range shooting performance that they had against the Mountaineers.
When St. Bonaventure has the ball
This team runs on senior point guard Kyle Lofton. The team leader in points (17.4) and assists (5.9), Lofton is a do-it-all playmaker that substantially raises the level of play of everyone around him. He also led the entire country in percentage of minutes played last season attributing to just how important he is to this St. Bonaventure team. Unfortunately for the Bonnies, Lofton suffered a high-ankle sprain in the last minute of a win over Coppin State almost two weeks ago and is day to day, so he might not suit up Saturday against the Huskies.
On the bright side for St. Bonaventure, they have more than enough on the offensive end to make up for Lofton’s potential absence. All four other senior starters average double figures for the Bonnies, led by another jack-of-all-trades guard in Jaren Holmes (17.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.9 assists).
The ball will likely be in Holmes hands most of the time, as he will be the primary playmaker and creator called upon to run the offense with Lofton possibly out. Holmes checks in at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, and is joined in the backcourt by fellow brawny guard, Jalen Adaway (6-foot-5, 215 pounds). This may be the first team that can match the strength and size of UConn’s backcourt, especially with Martin potentially out.
With Jackson almost surely checking Holmes, look for the Bonnies to try to get Adaway in some positions where he can take advantage of his size mismatch on either Cole or Gaffney. Their four-guard lineup is rounded out by 6-foot-5, 205 pound Dominick Welch (10.8 points, 5.6 rebounds), so no matter what defensive look the Huskies throw at the Bonnies, there will be a likely advantage for St. Bonaventure in the backcourt.
Fourteen-year head coach Mark Schmitt has his team cruising on the offensive end, ranking No. 28 overall on KenPom in adjusted offensive efficiency. Their offense is predicated on precise ball movement and their gamut of playmakers on the perimeter allow them to score with high efficiency.
However, they don’t push pace often, ranking 285th in adjusted tempo and 242nd in average possession length per KenPom. This is quite a difference between them and UConn, with the Huskies always pushing the break when possible. Look for St. Bonaventure to slow this game down and try to slowly pick apart this stout and aggressive Husky defense that has shown a bit of vulnerability to very well coached squads thus far.
Defensively the Bonnies are less frightening, ranking 77th in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom. Hiding within this sub-par defensive team is 2021 Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year in Osun “Shoon” Osunniyi. Shoon’s incredible wingspan and shot blocking instincts led to landing in the top 10 nationally for blocks per game last season. He is currently ranked No. 12 in this category with 3.2 per game.
The key to neutralizing Shoon is to try to draw him away from the rim, or to get him in foul trouble. UConn may have more success with the former, with Akok (and even Whaley for that matter) utilizing his adept perimeter skills to draw the all-star defender outside of the paint. It’s easier said than done, but without a reliable low post scorer, it’s going to be an uphill battle for UConn to try to get baskets over the outstretched arms of Osunniyi.