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A rested and recharged UConn basketball team returns to action today, but the Huskies will need every ounce of energy to overcome a short-handed roster.
Since coming home from its runnerup finish at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, No. 21 UConn's depth has dipped.
Veteran R.J. Evans, the team's top reserve and respected team leader, will be sidelined at least two weeks with an injury to his collarbone area.
UConn officials are calling his injury, which happened in practice Thursday, a sternal-clavicular sprain. Freshman forward Leon Tolksdorf, who recently sprained his left knee, also is expected to miss today's game against Stony Brook (4-1) at Gampel Pavilion (4 p.m., SNY).
Without Evans and Tolksdorf, the Huskies (4-1) will have only nine scholarship players healthy today, including guard Brendan Allen, who has yet to play this season.
The loss of Evans, a Norwich Free Academy graduate, is significant.
In his first year with the Huskies, Evans has played a valuable role, averaging 5.8 points and 1.8 rebounds in 20.6 minutes while appearing in all five games. He's been a stabilizing force.
"Tough loss, but we have some able soldiers to come in and just continue to help us grow," coach Kevin Ollie said Saturday. "He's going to do his rehab. I'm not worried about him. Hopefully he'll be back in a couple of weeks.
"We're counting on everybody. Everybody has to step up. (R.J.) played an integral part. … He's doing a lot of key things for us that don't show up in the stats. We're going to have to have guys step up."
UConn will be attempting to recover from its first defeat, a 66-60 loss to New Mexico in the Paradise Jam championship game on Monday. After traveling to the Virgin Islands and Germany in the first two weeks of the regular season, the Huskies will stay home for most of the next month.
Starting with today's game against Stony Brook, UConn plays six of its next seven games at home.
"This group has a loss now, so let's see how they bounce back," Ollie said. "They know how hard Stony Brook plays. Hopefully they have a healthy respect for our opponent and how they do play hard on each and every possession. "
Stony Brook has its own share of challenges, playing on consecutive days this weekend. The Seawolves beat Canisius, 82-75, on Saturday afternoon.
Coach Steve Pikiell, a former UConn captain and assistant coach, certainly is familiar with the Huskies.
Like his Seawolves, the Huskies are a work in progress, according to Pikiell.
"They're gritty and tough like UConn always is," Pikiell said. "They play hard and they play 94 feet. … They beat Michigan State. They've won a lot of good games against some real good programs. I think New Mexico is really good and they had a chance to win that game, too.
"Everyone there has kind of taken on a new role. Some of those guys didn't check into games last year and now they're playing a lot of minutes and playing different positions. So it takes a little bit of time. But they've really made that jump quickly."
Stony Brook, which is picked to finish second in the America East, is strong in the areas that UConn is weak. The Seawolves rebound well and go deep into their bench. Their team revolves around senior forward Tommy Brenton, an All-America East selection, who leads them in assists and rebounds. Junior guard Anthony Jackson, who had 21 points vs. Canisius, averages a team-high 13.4 points.
"They have a lot of great players but he's their leader," Ollie said of Brenton. "They're going to hit you and they're going to rebound. It gets back to rebounding.
"We have to go out and play UConn basketball and rebound. … I think we're going to do that and I think we're going to step up to the challenge."