Sanogo injury leaves door open
STORRS — Just over a week after Adama Sanogo used part of a trip to the balmy Bahamas to power through the formidable Auburn and Michigan State front lines, UConn is facing the cold reality of ramping up for, and getting relatively deep into, Big East play without him.
Sanogo could miss the rest of the calendar year with an abdominal tear sustained Tuesday in a victory over MarylandEastern Shore.
“We’ll probably know more in the next couple of days but right now it’s looking like a couple weeks to possibly longer, potentially longer than that or maybe longer than that,” coach Dan Hurley said Friday. “We just don’t know the extent of that. We need to get the MRI done but with an abdominal, it’s just a very unique injury to a basketball player. … Three weeks is probably the absolute minimum. But I don’t think
you’ll probably see him for longer than that.”
UConn, which plays Grambling State Saturday at Gampel Pavilion, has six more games before New Year’s, and a handful of them are monsters — nonconference matchups at West Virginia Wednesday and vs. St. Bonaventure Dec. 11 in Newark, New Jersey, and conference games vs. Providence, at Marquette and at Xavier.
The Huskies (7-1) are seemingly riding high. But they’re without Tyrese Martin (wrist) for at least a couple more weeks, they put up a lackluster effort in his absence Tuesday that Hurley was still fuming about Friday, and now they move forward without their most dominant player, Sanogo.
So who knows what UConn’s Advent calendar will reveal as December unfolds? The first week of the month has been a reminder of how quickly a season’s vibe can change, and how much more sometimes will be asked of players previously in lesser roles.
UConn went 2-1 in the Bahamas and left the Battle 4 Atlantis looking and feeling like a top-15 team. Now the Huskies are trying to patch things together, addressing the effort and passion that was lacking against Eastern Shore — and the void left by significant injuries to two starters averaging a combined 28.5 points, 14 rebounds and 55 minutes. It’s time for survival mode.
Sanogo, averaging 15.6 points and 6.3 rebounds, had emerged as one of the better low-post scoring threats in the nation, shooting 55.2%. Though still raw in some critical areas, he had improved markedly from last season and his growth was moving rapidly in the right direction — until he sustained the freak injury Tuesday.
“You knew it wasn’t good,” Hurley said. “You go back and watch the film. We turned the ball over and he tried to get the chase-down block. When he lunged for the chase-down block, you could see he grimaced and tried to stay in the game — and (tried to) practice yesterday.”
With Sanogo shut down, a frontcourt considered loaded will be considerably taxed. Isaiah Whaley will continue to start, of course, and heavy responsibilities shift to junior Akok Akok, held to four minutes each of the past two games, and freshman Samson Johnson, who played 23 minutes through the first four games but hasn’t appeared since.
“The onus is on Akok right now,” Hurley said. “This is a big moment in his career to turn it up and start making plays on the court … to have an impact and not just have dead minutes out there.”
Johnson will likely be lively, not necessarily efficient.
“He’s good on the ball screen game as a rim roller,” Hurley said. “Similar body type to Akok. But he’s got maybe a better instinct for cutting and putting himself in position around the basket to finish big. We may get some ‘wow’ plays from him, and then you’re going to get some ‘WOW’ plays. I think what you’re going to see, though, we’re going to have limited options in terms of who we can post, so that is obviously a big change from what we were doing.”
The changes affect everything from rebounding — which has already been a struggle, to team defense to the amount of open looks UConn guards get from the perimeter because opposing teams had to focus so much on the frontcourt. The Huskies are having to take a step back just when they envisioned being able to shift into a higher gear in who they are and what they do.
“Adama is in a complete rest situation and I don’t know how much he’ll be moving,” Hurley said, as opposed to Martin, who can work on certain basketball skills with his wrist in a cast. “(Sanogo) is all-in with this thing. This one sucks because that guy, he’s giving you 100 percent commitment.”
UConn will try to make this time useful for Sanogo, who does have some bad habits to consider. He holds the ball too long. He hasn’t been dominant on the defensive glass. He needs to become a better passer.
“There were some things from a low-post scoring (standpoint) and what he did in the Auburn game and at times in the Michigan State game (he) was very impressive. I do think there are some areas where we need more from him. We’ve been a terrible defensive rebounding team — like, terrible. And our ballscreen defense at times hasn’t been good and those are areas where he’s got a chance to step back and see the bigger picture and come back and be better and more of a great all-around player than a great low-post scorer.”
No excuses, Hurley said a few times Friday. Without Martin, Without Sanogo, UConn can’t be without the fight it lacked Tuesday.