UConn spoils Seton Hall Senior Night
The big men - Adama Sanogo and Isaiah Whaley - did the heavy lifting to lead UConn over Seton Hall 69-58 on Wednesday night, helping the Huskies lock up the third seed in next week’s Big East Tournament in the process.
Whaley tallied 17 points and 10 rebounds while Sanogo scored a career-high sixteen points and added nine rebounds of his own.
James Bouknight (16 points) and R.J. Cole (14 points) got in on the action as well as the Huskies (13-6, 10-6) came away with a win inside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. UConn has now won three straight and is 4-1 since Bouknight returned from an elbow injury.
The Huskies' third-place finish is their best in conference play since UConn was tied for third in its first season in the American Athletic Conference (2013-14)
“We’re going to celebrate this but we’re going to get right back to work tomorrow,” Whaley said.
After falling behind 15-6 in the opening six-plus minutes, it was almost all Huskies the rest of the way. UConn used a 9-2 run to tie the game at 17-17, then closed the half on an 8-0 stretch. Whaley’s bucket right before the buzzer made it 27-26 at the break.
Sandro Mamukelashvili led the Pirates with 20 points and Jared Rhoden added 16. With the loss, Seton Hall (13-11, 10-8) has now dropped three straight.
UConn won the battle of the boards 40-28 and held SHU to 40 percent shooting (22-for-55).
WHAT WENT WELL
Double Trouble: The backcourt typically powers these kinds of wins, but Whaley and Sanogo were the dynamic duo throughout the contest on Wednesday night. Sanogo was the offensive muscle early on, while Whaley just did what he does - play with tremendous energy and fill a stat sheet.
Whaley: “We knew we were going to get their best punch out of the gate, especially with it being Senior Night and all of the emotion with their fans being there. It was all about us staying composed and staying together the whole time. And then once we got our groove, we knew we had to keep going and get better.”
Sanogo: “It was fun. It feels good to win this game against Seton Hall.”
Lesson Learned: In their first meeting, the Pirates crushed UConn at the foul line, going 27-for-31 with “Mamu” hitting 10 of 12 shots for almost half of his 22 points. He got his points again, but only went to the line three times (3-for-3) and had his hands full against Whaley. Seton Hall was just 9 of 14 overall on foul shots as almost all the Huskies stayed out of foul trouble.
Hurley: “So impressed with Isaiah. Isaiah was obviously the MVP of the game with just making things so hard for Mamu and making him earn those numbers. And then (Whaley’s numbers) 17 and 10 against that defense, our frontcourt was (great).”
Whaley: “That was probably one of our main focuses, just making sure we didn’t foul him. He shot 12 free-throws last time we played him and we gave him a lot of easy shots. Our main objective was to make everything hard for him. We know he’s going to make shots, he’s a really good player, but basically, we wanted to make it as difficult as we could.”
Cook Without Book: It was a quiet night for Bouknight, and foul trouble was part of it, but the rest of the Huskies showed they are ready to shoulder more of the load to complement their superstar. Bouknight picked up three quick fouls in the second half and left with UConn up 33-28. When he returned, the lead with 48-39, fueled by a 15-8 run that included six points from Cole.
Hurley: “On a night when Bouk probably wasn’t his sharpest he still gives you 16 and then our defense and rebounding did the rest.”
More Hurley: “The blessing in disguise with James’ injury is that they were able to grow their confidence when he was out and now it’s paying dividends.”
WHAT NEEDS WORK
Just Stay Healthy: After three stoppages related to COVID, the Huskies are in a rhythm and have now played eight straight games as scheduled. With the momentum now rolling, they need to stay smart off the court and, most importantly, stay healthy.
Hurley: "We’re going to lock our guys in their rooms and make sure that we stay clean here because this is certainly the part of the season where you do not want to pop a positive.”
Whaley: “We are really confident but we're not complacent. We are just trying to keep our heads and keep working. We enjoy being around each other and practicing every day. It’s all about the journey and we’re enjoying the journey together."
The Huskies moved up to 25th in the KenPom rankings with the win and likely secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament as well. ... This is UConn's best finish in the Big East regular season since they were second in 2008-09 under Jim Calhoun. That team went on to lose in the NCAA Final Four that season. … Assistant coach Kevin Freeman celebrated his 43rd birthday on Wednesday. After the game, Sanogo credited morning workouts with “Coach Free” for helping him get better this season. … Saturday’s game is Senior Day for Polley, Carlton, and Whaley. … Cole has scored in double figures 12 straight games.
The game was a homecoming of sorts for Hurley, Cole, Sanogo, and Jalen Gaffney as the coach and players all hail from the Garden State.
UConn's next game is scheduled for Saturday, Mar. 6 vs. Georgetown. Tip-off is scheduled for 12 p.m. and the contest will be televised on CBS.