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Jordan Hawkins could be the Huskies’ X-factor in March

The freshman is rapidly adding to his game as the Big East and NCAA tournaments approach.

NCAA Basketball: Connecticut at Georgetown
Jordan Hawkins dunks over Georgetown guard Aminu Mohammed in Sunday’s 86-77 win.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

In the first half of the Huskies’ win over Georgetown on Sunday, freshman Jordan Hawkins threw down one of the most ferocious dunks of the season. The DeMatha product and Gaithersburg, Maryland native got the ball at the extended elbow and jabbed to his left before getting into the lane and dunking the Hoyas’ Aminu Mohammed into the center of the earth.

Hawkins, the No. 59 recruit in last year’s recruiting class according to ESPN, put together one of his most complete performances of the season in the win near his hometown, scoring 11 points. It marked the seventh time in his young career that he’s reached double figures. According to CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein, UConn is undefeated in those seven games.

The 6-foot-5 newcomer has been the only member of head coach Dan Hurley’s highly-touted 2021 recruiting class to see significant playing time, mainly due to his ability to stretch the floor. While Hawkins is shooting just 33.8% from the 3-point line, his silky-smooth shooting stroke and numerous close misses have made it abundantly clear he’s a better shooter than his initial numbers suggest.

Combine his ability with some impressive shooting performances — he’s made three or more 3-pointers in four games this season, including a perfect 3 of 3 from deep in the Huskies’ win over Auburn in November — and it’s easy to see how he’s earned a spot-up shooter role in Hurley’s offense.

But in the win over Georgetown, Hawkins showcased a different aspect of his game — the ability to drive to the rim. The ferocious dunk is the obvious example of what Hawkins can do off the dribble, but he also got to the rim on two other attempts, finishing 2 of 3 from inside the arc. He also showed the ability to create contact, shooting a career-high five free throws and making four of them. Hawkins is currently shooting over 82% from the free-throw line this season.

While the UConn offense has improved throughout the season as Adama Sanogo, RJ Cole and Tyrese Martin have carried the offense for stretches, the Huskies could always benefit from an offensive spark plug like Hawkins off the bench. Although Hawkins’ role may seem identical to reigning Big East Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Polley, the team has found success deploying them simultaneously as shooters who need to be respected on the perimeter. Lineups with Hawkins and Polley are UConn’s fourth-most common lineup over the past five games, all of which have been wins.

With Cole and Sanogo playing at the level they are, Hawkins won’t need to shoulder the offensive load like James Bouknight was asked to do for stretches as a freshman. As part of a deep and talented squad, Hawkins can sit back and shoot threes and still be a contributor, or he can take advantage of a bad matchup and get to the rack. Combine his growing offensive game and athleticism with noticeably improved defense, and Hawkins’ recent growth may make him the biggest key for UConn to make a deep run in March.