The News-Times

Huskies will rely on Akok

- By David Borges

STORRS — Dan Hurley could feel it, even see it. Some of his players haven’t been happy with their playing time this season.

“Body language,” the coach noted. “You see it on the bench. You know you have guys that are at certain stages of their career and hoped or thought they’d be in a different place.”

Those players are going to get their chances now. Adama Sanogo, UConn’s sophomore center and second-leading scorer, will be out for at least the next couple of weeks — likely more — due to an abdominal injury.

Couple that with the recent loss of third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder Tyrese Martin for the next 2-4 weeks with a fractured wrist, and suddenly the 17th-ranked Huskies are down 28.5 points and 14 rebounds per game as they embark on a very

difficult part of their schedule.

“Next man up,” Hurley said before Friday’s practice. “We’ve got to keep going. Every team goes through these things through the course of the season. I’ve talked a lot about our depth. A lot of people weren’t happy with their role, wanted more minutes. Well, here you go. Go produce.”

UConn (7-1) should have little trouble against 3-5 Grambling State on Saturday at Gampel Pavilion (4 p.m., FS2). After that, however, comes a Big East/Big 12 Challenge battle at West Virginia on Dec. 8, followed by a Never Forget Tribute Classic against St. Bonaventur­e on Dec. 11.

Then, the Big East season begins.

Perhaps no player needs to step up and produce more than Akok Akok. The 6-foot-9 junior has scored exactly two points in the Huskies’ last four games. After missing most of last season due to a torn Achilles tendon, Akok proclaimed himself “100 percent back” at the start of this campaign. And he played pretty well through UConn’s first four games, including a 12-point, 7rebound effort against Coppin State.

But he’s been just about invisible that past four games, even with his first start of the season coming Thanksgivi­ng Day against Michigan State.

“Listen, you’ve got to get

in the game and make things happen,” Hurley said. “You’ve got to get on the offensive glass, you’ve got to get out in transition and run, set a ball screen and roll, find ways to be productive out there. You’ve got to play great defense. This is an important time for him, an opportunit­y with Adama going down, to have a chance at more minutes and really get himself going. We needed him to step up right now, obviously.”

“The onus is on Akok right now,” Hurley added. “This is a big moment in his career to turn it up and start making plays on the court.”

UConn will also look for more minutes from 6-10 freshman Samson Johnson, who hasn’t even played the last four games.

“I’m excited to see Samson,” Hurley said. “In some way, I’m afraid, because I know he’s gonna make a ton of mistakes ... We may get some ‘Wow’ plays from him, and we may get some ... ‘Wooow’ plays.”

Meanwhile, in Martin’s absence, veterans like Tyler Polley and Jalen Gaffney will have to produce more. Hurley will also be looking for more minutes for a pair of freshmen: Jordan Hawkins and Rahsool Diggins.

Hawkins got his first career start Tuesday, struggled a bit and finished with five points.

“It definitely sucks to see the guys go down,” the 6-5 shooting guard said, “but it’s exciting to have a bigger role to see what I really can do. I know I’m ready for it.”

Diggins, like Johnson, hasn’t played the past four games.

“He’s gonna probably get some first-half minutes here,” Hurley said of the 6-2 point guard. “What can he do in practice, what can he do in those minutes? Will he prove himself to be somebody we can play over the course of the next couple of weeks ... or down the line?”

Plenty to be determined, beginning Saturday.

“Sometimes older players, when they lose that fire, they become old and stale,” Hurley said. “If they’re not giving you much, you’ve got to play young and hungry guys.”

RIM RATTLINGS

Sanogo suffered the injury in Tuesday night’s lackluster win over Maryland-Eastern Shore, while lunging to make a chasedown block after a UConn turnover. Hurley called it a “unique” basketball injury, and though Sanogo has had an MRI, it’s still hard to pinpoint exactly what the injury is right now — possibly a tear.

“We’re still kind of getting a sense of what that is exactly,” Hurley said. “Right now, it’s looking like a couple of weeks to possibly longer. Potentiall­y longer than that . ... We just don’t really know the extent.”

Jim Calhoun, who recently retired as head coach at Division III University of Saint Joseph, watched UConn’s practice Friday.

 ?? Stephen Dunn / Associated Press ?? UConn’s Akok Akok during a Nov. 20 game against Binghamton.
Stephen Dunn / Associated Press UConn’s Akok Akok during a Nov. 20 game against Binghamton.

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