Led by the return of star sophomore James Bouknight, UConn men’s basketball rolled to a 73-61 win over Providence at Gampel Pavilion on Tuesday night. With the win, the Huskies are now 10-5 overall and 7-5 in the Big East and firmly back in the conversation for landing an at-large spot in the NCAA tournament. Here are some takeaways from the Huskies’ latest victory.
Patrick Martin: Lost in the shuffle of all the delightful things happening the last seven days was a return to rebounding supremacy. In UConn’s last two losses to Providence and Seton Hall, they ceded the rebounding margin. They were plus-4 vs. Xavier, and a nasty plus-10 last night against the Friars. Josh Carlton’s seven rebounds in 10 minutes were particularly impressive.
Of UConn’s five losses this year, they’ve lost or tied the rebounding margin in all but one. Who’s left on UConn’s schedule? Two tilts with Georgetown, a conference leader in rebounding margin at plus-6.5. The Huskies still have work to do to punch their ticket, but its becoming clear what they need to do each game, regardless if shots falling or not. And it’s not just one guy — yesterday vs. Providence, six players recorded four or more rebounds. Against Xavier, it was five. There needs to be gang rebounding from everyone on the floor.
Push the pace
Martin: Coaches can talk in the offseason all they want about “playing fast,” but if you don’t rebound the ball at an elite rate, it becomes all talk. UConn’s iconic mid-2000s teams were rabid on the boards, and that energy on the glass led to frenetic fast breaks.
Now that the Huskies are trending toward elite status on the boards, you can see their up-tempo offense resemble what an effective fast break should look like. It should be a free-for-all, with multiple players on the court able to rebound and go without waiting for a guard. Andre Jackson kickstarted the play of the game by outletting to Isaiah Whaley, of all people! On paper, that’s a huge no-no. Advancing the ball to a big on the break usually is a one-way ticket to the bench. But as long someone else is hustling in transition — as Tyrese Martin was — all Whaley had to do was touch it ahead one more time. The same way UConn gang rebounds, they’re starting to gang fast break like the Husky teams of old once did.
Head coach Dan Hurley has assembled a roster where there’s no need to wait five seconds for a guard to come back and get the ball. Martin, UConn’s leading rebounder, grabs the rebound and goes. Bouknight and Jackson have similar green lights. And among UConn’s bigs, they’re getting better at pulling down the rebound and quickly picking out a guard ahead, instead of waiting for a ball handler to come back to them. Josh Carlton is excellent at this. You can see that mentality being drilled into their heads, and the results are easy baskets and momentum swings.
UConn’s halfcourt offense won’t be as shaky now that their Bouknight bailout is back. But that doesn’t mean the Huskies shouldn’t be trying to push the ball at every opportunity. The more track meets UConn finds themselves in, the better.
Bouk is back
Ryan Goodman: We can’t have a proper takeaways article without highlighting the return of the superstar. I would say most Husky fans had a general collective understanding of the team’s ceiling this season. With him back in the mix, the prospects have truly skyrocketed. Bouknight scored 18 points (7-13 FG) in only 25 minutes of game action, looking very comfortable on the court in almost all offensive sets, albeit fairly gassed on multiple occasions despite the limited minutes. It’s clear that it will take a bit of time to get him fully acclimated back to his normal conditioning levels, but he was more than impressive in his first game back since Jan. 5. He also produced his second Sportscenter top ten play of the year, throwing down a filthy one-handed putback slam, which looked eerily similar to the play Jackson made a few games back.
James Bouknight with authority pic.twitter.com/YOOSkxPMbe— Mike Mavredakis (@MMavredakis) February 16, 2021
Dan Madigan: Heading into this game, we knew Bouknight was active, healthy and had already participated in some full-contact practices. What we didn't know is that he would show no rust whatsoever and immediately reassert himself as one of the best players in the country. Like Ryan said, he still will need a few games to get his legs back under him, but the rhythm and scoring touch is already back to where it was pre-injury. His presence on the floor completely changes the way teams will have to defend UConn and should open things up more for RJ Cole, who has started to show the playmaking and shot creating talent that made him an honorable mention All-American at Howard. With Bouknight back and relatively healthy, this team is capable of beating anyone, and there’s no better test left on the schedule than this weekend’s matchup against No. 10 Villanova to prove that.