No. 25 UConn rolls behind Hawkins, Jackson
Storrs – Sophomore Jordan Hawkins injected life into the UConn attack with his deadly jump shot. Junior Andre Jackson provided energy, even diving on the floor for a loose ball with a 31-point lead.
The 25th-ranked Huskies looked scary good playing with both Hawkins and Jackson in the rotation for the first time this season, rolling to an 86-50 victory over UNC Wilmington on Friday night at Gampel Pavilion.
All four of their wins this season have come by at least 20 points.
Friday’s performance stood out, as the Huskies (4-0) dominated on both ends and showed off their enormous potential.
They’re a vastly different and deeper team with Jackson and Hawkins on the court.
“It was great to have Hawk and Dre back,” coach Dan Hurley said. “Pretty impressed with our last 24 minutes of that game.”
Jackson made his season debut Friday after being out with a broken pinky finger suffered last month, while Hawkins, sidelined since the season opener due to a concussion, was back in the starting lineup.
“I’m just grateful that I got to play today,” Jackson said. “I’m so happy to be back with Hawk and all the other guys. I love this team. We’ve got a lot of different pieces. I can’t wait to see where we can take it.
“Once we figure it out between each other, it’s going to be a special group.”
Hawkins quickly shook off the rust and made a big splash, finishing with a career-high 20 points in 25 minutes on 7 for 13 from the field. He made a career-best five three-pointers out of eight attempts.
“It felt good, especially playing with Andre,” said Hawkins, who also missed time at the end of last season with a concussion. “I haven’t played with him in awhile. It just felt good to play basketball again. It’s been ups and downs since last year. … It was really fun out there.”
Jackson, who had just one full practice before Friday, focused on setting up his teammates (a team-high five assists) and playing tenacious defense in 20 minutes. He had a crazy good team-best 33 plus-minus rating, playing so well that Hurley kept the junior guard in the game longer than he initially planned.
“He’s a rare type of player,” Hurley said. “He flipped that whole game taking two shots. Just the energy that he brought. It just changed the whole tenor of the game.”
The Huskies seized the lead for good with eight minutes left in the first half and never looked back. They pulled away early in the second half with a 17-0 run while holding the Seahawks scoreless for just over five and a half minutes.
They shot 53.8 percent from the field, went 10 for 22 from 3-point range and limited UNC Wilmington (1-3) to an icy 30.9 percent. Junior Adama Sanogo chipped in a game-high 24 points and added five rebounds.
What made UNC Wilmington potentially more dangerous from UConn’s previous opponents this season is the Seahawks already played road games at top-ranked North Carolina and Oklahoma, losing by 13 and 21, respectively. So they had faced a high level of competition prior to Friday, and it showed for a while.
UConn faced its biggest deficit of the season, trailing 7-2.
Hawkins was active early on, drawing a charge and then missing a dunk attempt on his first shot. He hit his first basket of the season, burying a 3-pointer from the corner about four and a half minutes into the game.
Jackson received a big ovation upon entering the game for the first time at the 12:21 mark with UConn clinging to a 10-9 lead.
“I’ve always been a fan of UConn basketball,” Jackson said. “Just to see that UConn Nation has that appreciation for me, it really meant a lot. It really just made me want to work that much harder.”
The game remained close in the first half due in part to the Seahawks controlling the boards.
The Seahawks had no answer for Sanogo, who used a variety of inside moves to score 10 of UConn’s first 16 points and had 17 by intermission.
Holding a slim 23-22 lead, Sanogo and Hawkins fueled a 17-6 spurt that handed the Huskies a 40-28 advantage at halftime.
Hawkins kicked it off with a 3-pointer, followed by five straight points by Sanogo. Hawkins hit his third three and then scored off his own rebounds while being fouled. His free throw upped the lead to 37-26.
Hurley called a timeout with seven seconds left to set up the final shot. Redshirt freshman Alex Karaban (12 points) delivered, beating the buzzer with a three for a 12-point edge.
The Huskies extended their lead to 20 (53-33) in the first five minutes of the second half when Jackson fed Hawkins for a fast-break dunk. They clamped down on defense, as the Seahawks went about seven and a half minutes without a field goal.
UConn plays its fifth straight home game to open the season on Sunday, hosting Delaware State at 5 p.m. at the XL Center in Hartford. Hurley says Jackson and Hawkins won’t be on a minutes restriction.
More good news for the Huskies, bad news for their opponents.
“I think we can take this program to another level,” Hawkins said. “We’re just an all-around team. We’re really good, man.”