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Takeaways: A tale of two UConn halves

The Huskies started off terrible and finished strong, but it wasn’t enough to avoid the season sweep from Xavier.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s basketball fought hard in the second half to overcome a horrendous first 20 minutes, but couldn’t complete the comeback and fell 82-79 to Xavier at Gampel Pavilion. The Huskies trailed by as much as 17 at one point and cut Xavier’s lead to one multiple points, but never was able to pull ahead. With the loss, the Huskies have dropped six of their last eight and now have a below-.500 record (5-6) in Big East play.

The Kombucha Girl Game

Dan Madigan: This game was the real life embodiment of that kombucha girl video that went mega viral a few years back. After an atrocious first half on both ends where no shots were falling on offense and no shots were being contested on defense, UConn bounced back in a big way in the final 20 minutes and put up arguably its best half of 2023. It was a shocking turn of events, fortunately in the right direction. The Huskies didn't win the game, but they may have figured something out to get back to their old winning ways. Here’s hoping they can keep that up through the rest of the season.

Let’s Talk About Those First Five Minutes

Patrick Martin: The analytics sites are all saying that starting the game with your first basket at 15:45 left in the first half is in fact, bad. People are also saying that UConn’s worst shooter taking seven of his team’s first 10 shots is very bad. This won’t be the last time you see teams sag off Andre Jackson that much. Hopefully next time, there’s a contingency plan in place faster.

Maybe put the ball in Newton’s hands and let Jackson — a capable screener — free up someone else. Or throw the ball to him on the block, clear out and have cutters ready for a pass. You can even overload a side, put him in a corner, and just have him crash the glass. Any of those options are better than inefficient floaters or ‘eff it’ threes.

In the second half, Jackson only took four shots, one of which was a breakaway dunk. Even when left wide open, he attacked with a few dribbles or a pump fake, drew a defender, and kicked to the open man. That is the Andre Jackson that’s most effective in the half-court. Teams are privy to his limitations on offense, so Dan Hurley and company are going to have to scheme up ways to utilize his talents better. Whatever the coaching staff cooks up, it should not be eight first half shots for their captain.

Madigan: Just prior to tip, I saw a crazy stat from EvanMiya saying UConn still hasn’t gone more than five minutes without scoring this season. Four minutes into the Xavier game, I thought for sure that was in jeopardy.

Maybe I am in the minority here, but I am fine with Jackson taking those shots, especially early on in the game. Defenses are leaving him wide open in effort to use that defender to double Adama Sanogo or even Jordan Hawkins. If he can convert on one of those wide open 3-point looks, the whole defensive plan changes, forcing them to guard Jackson closer to the perimeter and giving Sanogo more room to operate down low. Yes, it looks ugly when it doesn’t go in and Jackson keeps shooting, but I think the benefits of him shooting those shots to keep the defense honest outweigh the risks.

“We didn’t do the things first couple of minutes that we want to do. They obviously played really soft on Andre. He took the bait,” Hurley said postgame. “And then when you get down seven nothing, nine nothing you get put on your heels. You know they they shot the ball really well. Obviously they’re making some tough shots and they’re making some some easy shots but I just think we got we got rattled. We’re not used to playing as badly in the first half here as we played.”

Backcourt starters improving

Madigan: We really are watching Jordan Hawkins turn into a star in front of our eyes. He was ultra efficient against Xavier, shooting 50 percent from the floor (5-10 from 3-point range) and 100 percent from the free throw line on seven attempts. After being mostly a perimeter threat early on this season, Hawkins has taken advantage of defenders coming over the top on screens and driving to the hoop for easy buckets or to draw fouls when the 3-point shot is closed off.

The Xavier game marks now the third time he has scored 20 or more points in his last four games, and while turnovers have been an issue, it’s partially a byproduct of Dan Hurley and UConn relying on him heavily — he was used on over a quarter of the Huskies’ offensive possessions last night. There are still some flaws in his game, as the defense still needs work and the turnovers should be reduced, but he’s cemented himself as a surefire first round NBA draft pick this season. Fans should enjoy his time here in Storrs while he’s still here.

Newton was no slouch either, tying a season-high with 23 points and making nine of his 11 free throw attempts. The ECU transfer has attempted 25 free throws in his last four games, a signal of a return to one of his greatest strengths. Newton has struggled this season playing out of position as the team’s “point guard” and turning the ball over, but if he can cut down his turnovers and continue to get to the line, he may be the key cog to keep this offense going even through major shooting slumps.

“i’m at my best when I attack to score, get to the free throw line,” Newton said. “That’s pretty much my mentality.”