The News-Times

UConn missing Sanogo on both ends of floor

- By David Borges

Remember those first four games of the season that UConn won by an average of 40.7 points, and had thoughts of Big East titles and a trip to the Sweet 16 dancing in Husky fans’ heads?

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of those four games, beyond the stifling defense and transition game, was how the Huskies looked on offense. The spacing, balance and ball movement were things of beauty. Villanova-esque, even (before the Wildcats started to look mortal these past couple of weeks).

Yes, this all came against terrible competitio­n. Not bad competitio­n — terrible competitio­n. The four opponents UConn beat currently have a combined record of 6-38 and an average NET ranking of 318 (out of 353 teams).

Still, they were Division 1 opponents, and UConn showed it had the ability to be a smooth-running offensive unit. Sure, it would get tougher against Power Six foes like Auburn, Michigan State, West Virginia and, on Saturday evening, Providence. But the potential was there.

Much of UConn’s offense ran through Adama Sanogo, the 6-foot-10 sophomore center. And if Sanogo struggled at times passing the ball out of double teams — something that would be accentuate­d in UConn’s games against tougher teams in the Bahamas — it was more than made up for by his efficiency in the low post. Which, in turn, opened things up for the Huskies’ perimeter players.

Sanogo left UConn’s Dec. 4 win over Grambling State

with an abdominal injury and has yet to return. And the Huskies’ offense hasn’t looked very good ever since.

Too often, UConn looks tentative on offense. In a Dec. 8 loss at West Virginia, the Huskies had three shotclock violations, and several other times wound up hoisting up last-second heaves as the shot clock wound down. The Huskies looked like a team desperatel­y missing their secondlead­ing scorer and most consistent offensive player.

They were also missing third-leading scorer Tyrese Martin in that game. On Saturday, Martin returned to the lineup, and after showing some rust in the first half, finished with 15 points. But it was obvious the Huskies were still missing their go-to man in the low post.

UConn shot 8-for-29 (28 percent) from 3. Tyler Polley and Jordan Hawkins, ostensibly the Huskies’ best two 3-point shooters, combined to shoot 1-for-10 from distance.

Now, Adama Sanogo is not a 3-point shooter. He has attempted one in his career (missing it). But his low-post presence gives the UConn offense more balance, and can open things up for Polley, Hawkins, R.J. Cole, etc. Yes, the Huskies had some open looks on Saturday. With Sanogo, it’s likely they would have had more.

Look no further than Providence, with its dominant fifth-year center Nate Watson. A similar player to Sanogo, Watson requires heavy attention from any Friar opponent. On Saturday, he scored 10 points on 12 shots as the Huskies did a pretty good job on him. But, while the Friars hardly scorched the nets from 3 (33 percent), A.J. Reeves was able to get hot, knocking down four 3-pointers to help lead PC’s 57-53 victory.

“The value of having a guy like Nate Watson, that you’ve really got to gameplan for, obviously opens up things for guys like (Jared) Bynum and Reeves and these others to get quality looks, because you’ve got to sink in so much (defensivel­y),” UConn coach Dan Hurley said after Saturday’s loss.

Obviously, Sanogo would have also helped on the other end of the floor. While Watson was largely held in check by Isaiah Whaley and help from others, less-heralded big Ed Croswell had 11 points in 15 minutes off the bench and was the “player of the game,” according to PC coach Ed Cooley.

“We’re obviously better when he plays,” Hurley said of Sanogo.

So when will Sanogo play again? Prior to the past couple of games, Hurley has hinted that Sanogo was just about back. He even suggested the big man might be available for “spot minutes” against Providence. Some of that may be gamesmansh­ip, Hurley’s attempt to force other coaches to gameplan for Sanogo even if he won’t actually play. But Sanogo certainly seems close.

He was on the floor prior to the PC game, passing to his teammates during drills and looking pretty healthy. Will he be ready for Tuesday’s battle at Marquette? Hurley will probably say on Monday that, barring any setbacks, Sanogo could go on Tuesday. Maybe it’ll be gamesmansh­ip. Maybe it’ll be legit.

Either way, UConn needs Adama Sanogo back and healthy. Desperatel­y.

 ?? Jessica Hill / Associated Press ?? UConn’s Adama Sanogo watches his team warm up before a game against Grambling State on Dec. 4 in Storrs.
Jessica Hill / Associated Press UConn’s Adama Sanogo watches his team warm up before a game against Grambling State on Dec. 4 in Storrs.

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