UConn men’s basketball stopped their two-game losing streak and subsequent offensive funk with a convincing 80-72 win over No. 18 Marquette at the XL Center Tuesday night. The win marked a season sweep over the red hot Golden Eagles and elevated the Huskies to 7-4 in Big East play and 16-6 overall. Here are some takeaways from UConn’s best conference win of the season.
Dan Madigan: It’s hard to describe how incredible of a job UConn did crashing the glass Tuesday night. The Huskies out rebounded Marquette 46-27, but the margin felt greater than that. While UConn’s offense wasn't necessarily firing on all cylinders all game, Adama Sanogo and Tyrese Martin cleaned up in the post with five offensive rebounds each, extending key possessions and allowing for easy buckets. On the defensive end, UConn kept a fast paced Marquette offense in check and out of rhythm by bringing down 32 defensive rebounds.
With under two minutes left, UConn brought down two or three key offensive rebounds to extend their possession and prevent Marquette from having any shot of closing the gap. For a team that has struggled to finish out games at points this season, that seemed like a major improvement. The Huskies may not be the best offensive or defensive team in the Big East, but if they can rebound like that on a nightly basis, they’ll win plenty of games and be a tough out come March.
Ryan Goodman: It was clear that the Villanova game pissed off this UConn team and rightfully so. With the glowing disparities in each team’s rebounding agility and output throughout the year, it was clear that the Huskies had a massive advantage in this department, but did not capitalize in any way against the Wildcats. UConn finished that game with a minus-8 rebounding margin, their worst of the season, which came as a shock to the anyone who follows this team. From the jump against Marquette, the Huskies made it very clear that this was not happening again. They ferociously crashed the glass throughout, besting Marquette on the boards by 19 as Madigan mentioned above. This is the identify of the team this year. Yes, they still have all the defensive potential in the world, but that isn’t their greatest strength. They need to continue to bring this type of energy to every game moving forward because when they are this active on the boards it is extremely hard to beat them. This was a very promising responsive after getting manhandled by a below average rebounding team in Villanova.
New lineup, great results
Madigan: Dan Hurley has been rolling out some new lineups since the Villanova game, and one that really worked well featured both Jordan Hawkins and Tyler Polley in the first half. With two shooters out wide and Sanogo in the post, the Marquette defense was spread out and allowed the guards to get by their defender for a bucket, or if they were stopped, dump off to Sanogo or kick out to shooters for an open 3-pointer. With Hawkins and Polley both connecting from deep, this lineup looked dangerous. It’s hard to see that lineup becoming a regular fixture, as both Hawkins and Polley have some defensive issues, but it is certainly a lineup that could do serious damage against smaller opponents going forward.
Patrick Martin: Hawkins’ confidence is growing by the minute, and the lineups Madigan praised could become more of a fixture if his defensive trajectory continues. It’s just an eye test, but he seems to be beating his man to the spot better and is moving his feet quicker. His positional awareness is light years ahead of where he was earlier in the year. He doesn’t need to become the next Patrick Beverley. Just do enough to stay on the court and let your offensive skills fly.
Back it Up
Martin: Jalen Gaffney looked like he was turning the corner in recent games and had locked down the backup point guard spot. He did his best to give it away yesterday, turning the ball over twice in just four minutes. With UConn up three with 11 to go the second half, Gaffney got caught in the air and threw the ball to Marquette for a fast break. If not for the defensive hustle from Hawkins and Andre Jackson, it’s a one-point ball game after that critical turnover.
Not all turnovers are the same, and that one was an example of a potentially momentum-altering one, and something a point guard absolutely cannot do under any circumstance. RJ Cole hasn’t fouled out since the Seton Hall loss, but if ever gets into foul trouble, it’s nail-biting time with Gaffney at the helm. The backup point spot needs to be solidified for a March run; either Gaffney checks himself, Dan Hurley runs Jackson with the second unit as the handler, or he goes deep into his bench to give Rahsool Diggins a shot. Something has to give. I’m partial to door number three; is Diggins’ defense really that bad, and is his composure shakier than Gaffney’s? If I’m Hurley, I’m looking at ways to get Diggins some reps these next five games in meaningful minutes to see if he can be the solution.
Goodman: This was a must-win game for the Huskies after putting up back-to-back disappointing performances against formidable conference opponents. To any fan that merely glanced at the halftime and final game score, it would appear that UConn had this game in the bag the entire way. However, Marquette made their fair share of runs in this one, threatening to steal the game from UConn at multiple points throughout. The Huskies responded to each run made by the Golden Eagles, pulling away almost immediately after a couple of Marquette buckets silenced the XL center.
UConn had control most of the first half and went into the locker room with a 10-point lead. The men were holding serve quite well for about five to six minutes in the second half, before a Marquette charge behind 3-pointers from Darryl Morsell and Greg Elliot brought the game to within three. The lead was then cut to one after Oso Ighodaro nailed two free-throws, and the anxiety level in the arena was at an all-time high. UConn needed an answer, and with season expectations hanging in the balance, they responded.
Over the next four minutes, UConn forced 11 straight Marquette misses and went 6-6 from the free-throw line to bring the margin back up to nine. That got the crowd back into it, but the cheers were short lived, as five quick points by Justin Lewis and another three by Morsell brought Marquette back within three once again. A Dan Hurley timeout, followed up by a Isaiah Whaley baseline dunk on a beautiful dish from Cole gave the Huskies a bit more breathing room. After Sanogo hit a jump hook over Lewis, and Martin canned a 3-pointer from the left wing, UConn once again had a nine-point cushion. The closest Marquette got the rest of the way was six and UConn held their ground to come away with the eight-point victory. Those two crucial moments in the game when UConn was able to grow the lead after Marquette made big runs said a lot about this team’s ability to respond to adversity and really understand the sense of urgency that was present.