After two tough road losses, UConn men’s basketball bounced back with a convincing 69-60 win over Creighton for the first win over the Bluejays in school history. Thanks to a sold-out home crowd and a resurgent game from Adama Sanogo, the Huskies looked more like the team that started off the year on a 14-game win streak than the one that dropped two straight. Here are some of the key takeaways from UConn’s return to winning ways in thei victory over Creighton.
The team leaders stepped up
Aman: Adama Sanogo, Jordan Hawkins, and Andre Jackson made sure UConn did not lose this game. This game was closer than the final score indicates and certainly could have gone another way if Hawkins’ shot wasn’t falling and Sanogo was not creating offense in key moments. The Huskies are still looking for more from their guards, but it’s good to know that these guys all stepped up together in a moment of need to prevent UConn from losing three straight.
Shawn: Sanogo heard what Ryan Kalkbrenner was saying and clearly used it as motivation. The big man grabbed 26 points to lead the way, even converting on a few 3-pointers. Meanwhile, he and Donovan Clingan held Kalkbrenner to just nine points and six field goal attempts. He disappeared for long stretches of the game due to their solid defense, while a motivated Sanogo was too much for him on the defensive end. If Sanogo can take over games like that with regularity, that’s an encouraging sign for the Huskies.
The Big East is fine
Aman: It may be a down year for Villanova, but the league is currently projected to send five to the NCAA Tournament. As we’ve seen, Xavier, Providence, and Creighton are all somewhere between quite good and pretty solid. The home games against Xavier and PC are going to be huge and the road trip to Creighton won’t be easy.
Dan Madigan: I still think this Creighton team is better than people give them credit for, and fully expect them to be a legit contender for the Big East tournament title come March. The Bluejays, UConn, Xavier and Marquette are all inside KenPom’s top 20, and Providence isn’t far outside at 31. It may not be the usual suspects anymore with Villanova struggling, but there are still plenty of opportunities for marquee wins popping up on the schedule now, especially the Huskies’ road tilt with the Golden Eagles in Milwaukee in just a few days.
Ryan Goodman: Honestly it feels like a down year for a lot of the major conferences, other than the Big 12. The ACC might only send 3 or so teams to the tournament, the Big Ten maybe a few more, but in a weak landscape across the country, I also don’t think the Big East stands out as being especially bad. In fact it’s maybe the opposite. Anyone is capable of beating anyone on a given night, except maybe DePaul and Georgetown (which has ben the case for the past few years) but this league is relatively strong. UConn is still in the driver’s seat to take the crown, but it’s going to be a really fun league to follow the rest of the season.
A very large rebounding differential?
Aman: Creighton won the boards, 49-34, while only taking one more shot than UConn. It’s extremely weird for the Huskies to win a game where they were so thoroughly dominated on the glass, but shooting well from three while Creighton did not (2-8) and Adama Sanogo’s offensive dominance gave the Huskies enough for the win.
Madigan: Outside of UConn, Creighton has arguably three of the better rebounders in the conference between Ryan Kalkbrenner, Baylor Scheierman and Arthur Kaluma. Kaluma took advantage of a mismatch with Alex Karaban on him, posting 14 points and 16 rebounds. Scheierman chipped in with nine boards, and while Kalkbrenner was held to four, UConn’s focus on the big man opened up opportunities for other players to rebound. This was a tough matchup against a strong rebounding team, and being out rebounded by 15 is something that has literally never happened to Dan Hurley at UConn until Saturday. I’m chalking this up as an anomaly for now — I’m not worried.
Under Dan Hurley's 137 games at UConn, this is the first game they have ever been out-rebounded by at least 15 boards. Creighton won the rebound battle 49-34.— Evan Miyakawa (@EvanMiya) January 7, 2023
And UConn still won the game comfortably. What a special team.
Goodman: This was definitely a semi-shocking development in the game, and at times at felt like the Providence loss where every lose ball and carom would fall to the Friars. The difference in this one was that Creighton just wasn’t hitting their shots. Credit them, as they were also in great positioning all game to gobble up any boards, but this does seem like an anomaly of sorts. Dan Hurley will definitely be circling this differential and ensuring the team does not let that happen again.
Aman: Lately Joey California has not been torching people. In this game, Donovan Clingan’s four points represented all of UConn’s bench scoring. Hassan Diarra (16 minutes), Nahiem Alleyne (11 mins), and Calcaterra (9 mins) were scoreless in this game. Alex Karaban, who isn’t a bench player but certainly a secondary scorer, was also quiet, scoring two points. It’s rare to see none of these guys stepping up in a game.
Shawn: The lack of offensive output from of the bench isn’t encouraging, as being able to run 10-deep when Samson Johnson is healthy is a calling card for UConn. However, these players are impacting the game in other ways. Diarra is a tremendous defensive player and it’s clear whenever he steps on the court that the Huskies are that much better in their own end. Clingan does the same thing. While he played just eight minutes due to some foul trouble, he still grabbed three rebounds and rejected a pair of shots. Despite that, players like Calcaterra and Karaban need to put up better offensive numbers as two of the team’s best outside shooters.
Madigan: UConn probably will not win another game this year if they only get four points from their bench. The Huskies need someone in this rotation to step up and provide help on both ends, especially in the backcourt. My pick still remains Nahiem Alleyne, who can help out enough defensively, has played in big games and has started to regain his shooting stroke in the last three games (2-5 from deep). Clingan remains a game-changing talent, but needs to stay out of foul trouble and still is dependent on matchups to play extended minutes.