It was a white out and Senior Night on Wednesday inside Gampel Pavilion for a top-20 matchup between No. 18 UConn men’s basketball and No. 20 Providence. It was tight for much of the first half, with neither team grabbing a lead of more than five points, but after a pair of Bryce Hopkins free throws brought the Friars to within three with 12:39 to play, the Huskies opened up a 14-0 run over nearly five minutes to put the visitors away.
This was a big one and here’s what the staff took away from the dominant performance.
The offense was sparkling
Shawn McGrath: Dan Hurley’s team scored 1.36 points per possession and the lowest individual offensive rating according to KenPom came in a tie between Donovan Clingan and Jordan Hawkins at 121. While Providence is offense-driven, the defense still isn’t bad and it’s a top-20 team. UConn’s 135.8 adjusted offensive efficiency rating is its second-best on the season, behind LIU, in which the Huskies scored 1.44 points per possession with a 144.7 adjusted rating against the ninth-worst defense in the country. It was also Providence’s worst night on defense of the season, by far.
Jordan Hawkins was 3-9 from outside the arc and the hosts were still 10-21 as a team, anchored by a 3-3 night from Nahiem Alleyne. Andre Jackson facilitated, with four assists, one turnover and just three shots from the field, each of which were in the paint. The remaining four starters were in double figures. There’s little more to ask of a team's offensive performance.
Ryan Goodman: The Huskies were hummin’ in this one, as they put together one of the most complete wins of the season on both ends of the floor, but where they completely dominated was on the offensive end. It’s crazy because UConn was very discombobulated early on, committing four turnovers in the first four minutes of the game and only scoring 13 points in the opening 10 minutes. The Huskies proceeded to score 74 points over the next 30. How’d they do it? Timely and intelligent 3-point attempts, pounding the offensive glass (they doubled up the Friars on the boards, 40-20) and sharing the ball (20 assists — one of their highest marks of the year).
What I kind of loved most about this win was that it felt like what we thought the peak of this team would be during the preseason. Hawkins asserted himself and led the team in shots and scoring, Sanogo put up the quietest 16-point performance, Newton was a playmaker for his teammates and himself, Jackson did it all once again with his dogged defense, rebounding, and a healthy dose of offensive output.
Clingan and Alleyne (3-3 from downtown) provided exceptional minutes on both ends with Joey Calcaterra splashing his one long-range bomb per game. It was beautiful. It was team-oriented basketball. It felt a lot like the Marquette game in that no matter how hard the opposition tried to claw its way back, Hurley and the Huskies just always had an answer.
This squad showed once again that they are capable of dominating the best teams in the Big East. They can do this against anyone in the conference. I don’t want to get ahead of myself because the Villanova game at the end of the season will be a sneaky competitive one, but I would love to just skip to the part where UConn is back at Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament.
The rebounding was impressive
McGrath: These two are among the best rebounding squads in the Big East. Providence and UConn were in the top 50 in offensive rebounding percentage both for and against headed into Wednesday night and the Huskies cleaned up on the boards. Maybe it was the raucous crowd fueled by $2 Miller Lites that helped, but the hosts outrebounded the Friars 40-20, with 15 offensive boards for the team wearing the home whites. UConn missed 28 times, which translates to an offensive rebounding percentage of 55.6 percent. This was the worst on the season for Ed Cooley’s defense and no non-UConn team has grabbed more than 40 percent of its misses against Providence.
“I thought we were soft. I thought we were not connected,” Cooley said postgame. “And I think the environment had a lot to do with that, you know, so the $2 beers definitely worked. The white shirts definitely worked. That was a game that they needed to win and they played like it. That was an old school Big East battle.”
This extended to the other side, as the Friars grabbed just 24.2 percent of their own missed field goals, which was fifth-worst on the season. Adama Sanogo was the starter with the lowest rebound total, at five, four of which were on the offensive glass. The Huskies were determined to grab the 50/50 balls and this made for a chaotic performance at times, but it was effective in keeping Providence from getting second and third chances at scoring.
Hawkins is officially “The Guy”
Goodman: The Ray Allen comparisons need to respectfully chill out, but no more discussion on this topic of who UConn’s go-to guy is. Hawkins has put this matter to bed. He should be the one shooting late in the clock, he should be the one with the ball in his hands at the end of the game. UConn’s star sophomore continues to assert himself more and more, and it’s been incredible to watch. Early on in the season, he was passing out of his first look when it was cut off. He then started to become a bit more comfortable taking chances halfway through the season, probing the defense a bit more and sometimes getting some contested shots up, but he’s now developed into a true cold-blooded killer. Even if he is denied initially, Hawkins is taking the ball directly into the teeth of the defense, taking and making NBA-level shots.
I think he fully believes he is the best player on the court every time he suits up. Whenever he touches the ball he’s looking to score, and more often than not he is succeeding in that endeavor. UConn’s offense shouldn’t turn into Hawkins shooting a contested pull-up free-throw line jumper on every possession, but he’s more than proven that he can bury that type of shot no matter who is checking him. The road to becoming a lottery pick starts now.
Patrick Martin: The Auburn game last year, which was viewed as Hawkins’ coming out party, included a 3-3 performance from beyond the arc and 16 points. The Ray Allen comparisons were gaining traction. But his last basket was scored with 11 minutes left, and he traveled in the final seconds to send the game to overtime. The cameras weren’t shy in showing how distraught and shook he was after that turnover. UConn won, but Hawkins lost his confidence for most of his freshman year.
Fast forward to Wednesday, and his first three possessions went as follows: turnover, turnover, blocked 3-pointer. For the first five minutes he looked lost, and for someone with a reputation as a streaky shooter that needs to see a few go down, it spelled trouble. But he finished with a stat line of 20 points, six rebounds, on 50 percent shooting from the field and 33 percent from beyond the arc. To bounce back from that ugly of a start shows tremendous maturity and mental toughness.
“He’s grown up through the course of the year through some successes and some not so great games,” Hurley said of Hawkins. “The team has done a better job screening for him and locating him in transition..the kid is mentally tough, he believes in himself.”
Martin: UConn is starting to adjust to Big East whistles. The Huskies average 18.5 fouls per game, rate that’s 285th in the country. They only committed one foul in the first half last night, and even the 13 whistles in the second half still trends in the right direction. The Huskies’ 14 fast break points yesterday are enabled by staying disciplined on defense and not overextending.
UConn has averaged only 14.3 fouls in the last three games. The next step? Fouls per game jumps up to 19.4 on the road. UConn will be playing in front of a hostile crowd only once until the NCAA tournament—the regular season finale at Villanova. (Yes, the Madison Square Garden is a home crowd.) This is a great opportunity to drill home this newfound discipline before the Big Dance—where whistles are historically tight.