UConn’s 74-66 win over Villanova wasn’t always pretty, but the Huskies managed to take down the Wildcats in front of a sold-out XL Center crowd despite a quiet performance from big man Adama Sanogo. Even with the All-American candidate struggling to stay out of foul trouble against Kyle Neptune’s Nova squad, UConn pieced enough quality minutes together to grind out another conference win and get to 14-0 on the season. Here are some takeaways from the Huskies’ third Big East win of the year.
Hawkins on a Hot Streak
Ryan Goodman: That’s six double digit performances in a row for the Maryland native, with half of those games at over 20. A night where points were at a premium for a majority of the contest, UConn’s super sophomore once again showed why he is a potential lottery pick by scorching the Wildcats for 22 points on 4-11 shooting from behind the arc. Hawkins was the unquestioned MVP of this game with Sanogo in foul trouble early and many starters struggling to get going. He has the greenest of lights — there is nary a shot he does not like — and it’s working for him.
The off-ball action UConn is running for Hawkins is leading to open shots, but what I’ve liked most about Hawkins game is that he’s also making the right read when the initial look is closed-off. He’s putting the ball on the deck and taking it to the rim when the opportunity presents itself. He’s pump faking, blowing by his defender and then and then stopping on a dime in the mid-range to nail a 15-footer. I still think Sanogo is UConn’s best player, but Hawkins is quickly becoming the hardest to game plan for.
Dan Madigan: I think this was without a doubt Hawkins’ best game as a Husky. He carried the offense for key stretches and more than held his own on the defensive end, using his length to disrupt passing lanes and bottle up defenders, especially while pressing. Hawkins has already established himself as this team’s most reliable shooter, but his quick release and ability to run off screens effectively allows him to get open consistently. I know Hawkins appearance and shooting stroke draws some Ray Allen comparisons from UConn fans, but to me, he’s more of a modern day Richard Hamilton due to how well can run off of all types of screens.
Even when his shot didn't fall early on, the sophomore never lost confidence and kept firing. He’s now shooting nearly 41 percent from three on the season and working on his game at the other two levels. If he can continue to improve his scoring around the basket and on the defensive end, there’s a good chance he’s NBA bound after this year.
Establishing the Post
Patrick Martin: UConn’s spacing on offense has been a revelation this year. That’s because — and we still love The Wrench — but instead of Isaiah Whaley clogging up space inside, now its just Sanogo or Clingan down low anchoring the post. Hurley’s preseason aspirations of a four-out one-in offense have come to life. Open looks become more prevalent when the ball moves inside-out instead of around the perimeter. This was one of the more infuriating things about a Kevin Ollie offense, but that’s a story for another day.
Villanova has nobody over 6-foot-8, but Eric Dixon is built like a truck. His denial on Adama Sanogo inside made UConn’s first priority of establishing the post very difficult. Even if the Huskies were able to feed Sanogo, he often caught the ball in uncomfortable spots, resulting in some awkward dribbles and a few head-down offensive fouls.
UConn’s offense will sputter at times if Sanogo or Clingan struggle to establish the post like they did last night. Guards have to spend two or three extra seconds trying to find an angle, but that’s all the time needed for ball movement to stagnate. It’s not the long, rangy shot-blockers that seem to bother him, but the stocky, undersized types that can match his strength. If teams defend post entry passes well, UConn will have to work a lot harder at getting open looks.
Bench comes through once again
With the offense sputtering after six minutes, Hurley once again went to the bench with the hopes of getting the offense going and subbed it Joey Calcaterra and Nahiem Alleyne. While Calcaterra wasn’t able to post another sensational performance, Alleyne quietly established himself as a key player on both ends. The Virginia Tech transfer played 16 minutes with just two points and an assist, but was a big help defensively against the smaller and quicker Wildcats lineup. While Alleyne hasn’t seen his shot fall much this season, it shows he’s still an incredible luxury to have off the bench due to his defensive effort and experience — this is someone who is not even a year removed from helping the Hokies to a surprise ACC tournament run and NCAA tournament appearance.
Fellow bench mate Hassan Diarra also broke out in a big way, leading all bench players with 21 minutes with six points, three assists, zero turnovers and four steals. Diarra may not be the offensive spark plug that Calcaterra or Alleyne is, but his length and persistence on defense makes him a nightmare for opposing guards. He brings toughness and unselfishness off the bench, and plays within himself to find the open man or hit open shots. As Big East play gets more and more physical, he should be a key tool in the tool box, especially in late game situations.