No. 21 UConn men’s basketball had one of its most complete wins of the season, dismantling the No. 10 Marquette Golden Eagles in front of a rowdy XL Center crowd, 87-72. This was a game UConn led end to end and it never felt in doubt after the Huskies went up 10 within the first five minutes. The victory certainly proved that UConn can still play with some of the best in the country.
The gear still exists, folks
Ryan Goodman: For only about maybe two minutes of that game did my heart rate actually hit above resting, which speaks volumes to how well the Huskies were able to keep Marquette at bay for the entire evening. UConn was up by 10 in the blink of an eye and continued to extend its lead throughout the first half until the Golden Eagles got a tiny bit of momentum back after a Husky turnover led to a bucket on the other end and the lead cut to 14, a semi-manageable deficit heading into the half. Then Nahiem Alleyne, the once-vaunted sharpshooter who’s been struggling all season long, banked in a 35-foot prayer to put UConn back up by 16, it just felt like it was going to be one of those nights. And it was. No matter how hard Marquette tried to climb back in it, the Huskies had an answer on both ends.
“They played just like they were playing when they were 14-0 and the No. 2 team in the country,” Marquette head coach Shaka Smart said postgame.
Everyone was getting in on the action. Karaban, Hawkins, and Alleyne nailing 3-pointers, Newton scoring on dribble-drives, Jackson smothering his man and crashing the boards, Sanogo quietly getting his. Everything that was on display when Dan Hurley had these boys rolling in the beginning of the year was showcased in this one and it’s just great to see that they can still hit that extra gear — it wasn’t just a figment of our imaginations. Marquette isn’t a defensive juggernaut by any means (No. 59 in adjusted defensive per Kenpom), but hanging 87 on the top team in the Big East is something to be extremely proud of. Hopefully, UConn can take that same energy into Omaha on Saturday.
Dan Madigan: Tristen Newton has taken his game to another level since his goose egg against St. John’s. In that span, the ECU transfer has hit double figures in all six of those games, including 20-plus points twice, and is in rarified air as the only Husky ever to post two triple-doubles in the same season. His triple-double against Buffalo earlier this year was impressive. His 12-point, 12-assist, 10-rebound game against No. 10 Marquette was one of the biggest performances from a UConn guard in years.
Newton may not be a true point guard, but he’s shown he definitely can distribute the ball and find the open man, especially in the half court offense. Since St. John’s, he’s posted four or more assists four times. He’s also found his role in the offense as someone UConn can rely on to get to the rim. He’s taken five or more free throws in all but one of his last six games, an ideal strategy for an 80.7 percent shooter from the free throw line. If Newton can work on limiting his turnovers — he had five against Marquette but also had the ball in his hands more than just about anyone — can get to the stripe and knock down open threes, he should consistently be the third option this offense needs.
He did it!— tcf15 (@tcf_15) February 8, 2023
Tristen Newton is the first player in @UConnMBB history to have two triple-doubles in the same season.
Newton joins Shabazz Napier as the only other player with two triple-doubles in their @UConnMBB career (Shabazz did it once in 2011-12 and once in 2013-14).
That’s it. That’s the tweet.
If you asked me at the beginning of the season which UConn player was most likely to get a triple-double I would’ve answered Andre Jackson without hesitation. After that, probably Sanogo, with blocks as the kicker. The fact that Newton has done something that no other guard in the history of UConn men’s basketball has is both awesome and sort of hilarious at the same time based on how many ridiculously talented basketball players have come through Storrs. He’s not on the same level as those greats before him, but he’s an incredibly important part of this team which has lacked consistent point guard play this year and is doing exactly what Dan Hurley needs him to do. Newton is now tied with Jackson for the team lead in assists, and is tops on the team with nine games dishing out six or more assists.
Is Nahiem Alleyne back?
Shawn McGrath: It’s been a struggle for Virginia Tech transfer Nahiem Alleyne so far this year. A career 38.7 percent 3-point shooter over three seasons with the Hokies, he was 17-61 (27.8 percent) headed into Tuesday’s contest and after starting the first eight games of the season, he saw his minutes start to shrink, cratering to seven on the road against Seton Hall.
Alleyne was able to knock down three of his six 3-point shots over 20 minutes to score 13 points, which was a season high. He did so within the flow of the offense and turned the ball over just once. His 135 offensive rating on KenPom was his third-highest of the season and the best since the team’s last game against Marquette, in which he didn’t score. Unlocking a second strong 3-point shooter on the bench alongside Joey Calcaterra will be a huge benefit as the team gets into win-or-go-home situations in March. If one isn’t hot, it’s more likely that UConn will still get some solid bench production if there’s another option waiting in the wings.
“I haven’t been playing as well as I wanted to, but I’ve just been keeping consistency, keeping to a routine, and being ready for the opportunity,” Alleyne said.
Goodman: The Naheim Alleyne disappearance has been one of the more head-scratching storylines of UConn’s season to date. After he transferred to Storrs in June, I started getting into his tape and I became more optimistic and excited that UConn was getting a sure-fire contributor on both ends of the floor. I also asked one of my Virginia Tech buddies about him and he grounded me a bit by saying we were getting a solid lefty marksman who isn’t the best defender per se, but he’s not going to hurt you on that end either. The amount Alleyne has struggled has been definitely been surprising, but he may have been on to something. Alleyne started off with 10 points per game over UConn’s cupcake portion but then fell off a cliff during the Phil Knight Invitational when it seemed like a Husky was having a career game every night.
Shooters need confidence. And reps. Alleyne was someone that most had written off at this point in the season, but he may be building something here - this was his fourth straight game with a made 3-pointer. He’s more than talented enough to still carve out a sizeable bench role, and hitting a season-high in points (13) while tying a season-high in 3-point makes (three) is a great step in the right direction. Don’t be surprised if he hits a big shot down the stretch in a close game for the Huskies. These games are becoming increasingly more important as we inch closer to tournament time, and he’s got the experience, which goes a long way.
Is the momentum shifting?
Madigan: Has any team in college basketball had bigger swings of momentum throughout the season than UConn? The Huskies were the hottest team in the country for 14 games this year, pushing Purdue for multiple No. 1 votes and looking like a legitimate Final Four team. Then, January hits and the wheels fall all the way off, with the Huskies losing five of eight and nearly falling out of the AP Poll entirely. After two road games that felt a little tougher than they probably should have been, UConn responded by dominating a top-10 AP Poll and KenPom team for 40 minutes and has a shot for another marquee win Saturday at No. 23 Creighton.
“We’ve had a bunch of really good wins against really good teams. I’ve reminded our team that we’ve gone through one bad stretch that every team in the country goes through,” Hurley said.
If January is the Huskies’ worst stretch of basketball, it’s over now. And while it cost the Huskies a shot at the Big East regular season title, the Marquette win made it clear that this team still has plenty of gas in the tank to contend for a Big East tournament title and a deep run in the big dance.
Jordan Hawkins—the baby deer
Patrick Martin: As UConn tumbled back to earth, the scouting report was that if you run Jordan Hawkins off screens, he couldn’t create his own shot. He was a one-dimensional shooter that relied too much on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers off screens.
But Tuesday, only two of five 3-pointers were of the catch-and-shoot variety. Hawkins showed off a well-rounded offensive game of drives (to the left!), pull-up jumpers, and extended range past the arc. It’s resulted in an incredibly efficient, well-rounded offensive player; he’s shot less than 50 percent from the field only once since the Jan. 11 loss at Marquette. It’s no coincidence that a more aggressive Newton has coincided with the lightbulb coming on for Hawkins. He’s a Top 10 finalist for the Jerry West Award for a reason.
Hawkins’ evolution as a three-level scorer will be a big part of UConn’s narrative in March. Anyone that tries to double or hedge him around screens now, leaves slips wide open. Or if you try to run him off the 3-point line, he can go by you or take two dribbles for a smooth pull-up.
It’s the little things he seems to have nailed too; Hawkins has missed only three free throws in all of 2023. He has six blocks in the last four games, and has shown a knack for getting his hand in passing lanes. In transition, he’s sprinting to spots, so defenses not only have to stop the ball, but also stay glued to a shooter that is now realizing he only needs a fraction of space.