UConn men pull away from Hartford for 69-57 win
Storrs — UConn displayed flashes of its enormous potential and also its immaturity on Friday night.
Coach Dan Hurley wants more of the former and less of the latter.
The Huskies roared out to a 19-point lead in the first half, let up and allowed Hartford back in the game before seizing control again. They overcame foul trouble and a stubborn opponent in the 69-57 win at Gampel Pavilion.
Hurley repeatedly used the word "immaturity" during his Zoom postgame press conference.
"We just showed a lot of immaturity," he said. "We didn't know how to act. We didn't sustain it. That should have gone from 19 to 23 at halftime and the first or second media timeout in the second half, it should have been 28.
"We've got a lot of work to do. We were incredibly immature from the 3:32 mark of the first half throughout the next 23 minutes. It was just immaturity at its highest level."
Playing their second game in three days, the Huskies (2-0) looked sharp early before losing their edge and then eventually regaining it again. They relied on their defense and depth to carry them to the finish line. The Hawks (0-1) shot just 32 percent from the field.
James Bouknight led the team in scoring for the second straight game, scoring in 18 points before fouling out. But he had only two points in the second half. Fellow sophomore Jalen Gaffney hit some key baskets in the second half and finished with a career-best 15 points.
Transfer Tyrese Martin, who sat out the opener while serving a one-game NCAA penalty for playing in an unsanctioned summer basketball league, provided a spark off the bench with six points and 10 rebounds in his UConn debut.
"He was a difference maker," Hurley said.
Senior Isaiah Whaley had 10 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks, and a career-high four assists while Cole added 10 points.
Hartford coach John Gallagher was more impressed with the Huskies than Hurley.
"This is Danny's best team," Gallagher said. "They're talented, man. They are talented. Look at the Big East, if you study it, UConn, not even close, is the most athletic team in the Big East. Not even close. ... I think they're going to contend right now."
UConn, which never trailed, certainly looked like a dangerous team for most of the first half.
Bouknight started out in attack mode, scoring 12 of his team's first 16 points. Promising freshman Adama Sanogo came off the bench to hit six straight points to give the Huskies a 22-7 lead.
UConn's disruptive team kept Hartford off balance. The Hawks converted just four of their first 22 field goal attempts and had six turnovers.
Cole's corner jumper pushed UConn's lead to 36-17 with 3:09 left in the first half.
But the Huskies let up. And foul trouble began to take its toll, as starters Bouknight, Cole and senior Tyler Polley all were forced to spend time on the bench.
Hartford, behind sophomore Moses Flowers (24 points), fought back. The Hawks closed the gap to 38-26 at the break.
Then the visitors continued their charge at the start of the second half. Traci Carter's jumper capped a 11-2 spurt and cut the deficit to 40-37 with just under 14 minutes left.
Cole settled the Huskies down, burying a 3-pointer, converting a tough driving layup and setting up Sanogo for a dunk to spark a 10-2 run. UConn also increased its defensive intensity.
Whaley, Gaffney and Martin helped carry the Huskies to the finish line. They combined for 22 points after intermission.
The Huskies had too many lapses to feel good about the win.
"We've just got to stay locked in for a full 40 (minutes)," Gaffney said. "That's the whole thing. We let up. We thought the game was over and we didn't have to play as hard. Hartford is a good team."
UConn has plenty to fix before playing Vanderbilt on Tuesday afternoon in the Legends Classic at the Mohegan Sun, although the game isn't on UConn's schedule yet.
The Huskies are tentatively scheduled to play three games next week.
Hurley says he'll make a decision about playing next week on Saturday.
"What made sense to us, see what these guys look like physically tomorrow after playing that stretch," Hurley said. "If they look good and feel good, then we'll go into the gauntlet next week."
After watching Villanova and Seton Hall play the last couple of days, Hurley said he's humbled by how far his team has to go.
Hurley wants more leadership and production from his veterans.
"I've got a lot that I've got to get fixed before Dec. 11," said Hurley, referring to UConn's Big East opener versus St. John's. "Unfortunately, for us, we're going to learn a lot of really, really hard lessons during these games."
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