Martin may return when No. 15 UConn men play St. Bonaventure
They've been as reliable as the sunrise so far this season.
Veterans R.J. Cole and Isaiah Whaley can be counted on to consistently shine for the UConn men's basketball team.
Without their significant contribution, the Huskies would not be 8-2 and ranked 15th heading into Saturday's Never Forget Tribute Classic game against St. Bonaventure (4 p.m., ESPN2) at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
The two team leaders have increased their production with injured starters Tyrese Martin (left wrist) and Adama Sanogo sitting out the last three and two games, respectively.
Cole, a dynamic point guard, averaged a team-best 19 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.7 steals in the last three games while Whaley, a 6-foot-9 forward, contributed 11.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game during that span.
But the reliable pair need help for UConn to be successful, especially until the Huskies are healthy again.
"If R.J. and Isaiah are off a tick, we're in deep, deep trouble," coach Dan Hurley said recently. "R.J. is playing like one of the best guards in the conference and Isaiah is one of the most invaluable players in our league in terms of just a do-it-all guy. So, we cannot afford those guys to be off a tick and then everyone else has to give us more."
For example, take Wednesday's 56-53 loss at West Virginia.
Cole and Whaley did their job, combining for 29 points. But only one other teammate, sophomore Andre Jackson (10 points), scored in double figures. The trio of Jordan Hawkins, Akok Akok and Tyler Polley combined to go 2 for 18 from the field and chip in just eight points.
The predictable result: UConn scored a season-low for points, shot 39 percent from the field and made just 3 of 21 from 3-point range.
Hurley said Friday night that the Huskies had some great looks at West Virginia but just misfired.
"Losing a guy like Adama that we can throw the ball into, makes it more important that we make shots," Hurley said. "Too many guys put too much pressure on themselves. They've got to go out there and relax, attack the game and have fun and go out and play ball."
The Huskies will receive a much-needed boost if Martin, a tough 6-6 guard, returns to the lineup. Martin practiced on Friday.
Martin's status will be a game-time decision.
"It was his first time out there where he did a little bit of everything," Hurley said. "We'll see how the injury responds overnight and how he feels at shoot-around (Saturday)."
Sanogo is making progress but not ready to play yet.
"He's ramping up some things in terms of his movement," Hurley said. "Just one of these things where you've got to be really, really careful. You don't want it to linger. You want to get him back and keep him in the lineup. Holding out hope that he's got a shot at the Providence game (Dec. 18). We'll know more probably in the middle of next week."
The Bonnies (8-1), the unanimous preseason favorite to win the Atlantic 10, also are dealing with an injury to a key player.
Star point guard Kyle Lofton, who's missed the last two games with an ankle sprain, is day to day so he may play on Saturday. Considered an NBA prospect, Lofton leads the team in scoring (17.4) and assists (5.9).
Lofton and fellow senior Osun Osunniyi are former Putnam Science Academy teammates of Akok's. Lofton and Cole also played AAU basketball together
It will be a homecoming game for not only Lofton, who's from Hillside, N.J., but also several Huskies, including Cole (Union), Jalen Gaffney (Columbus) and Hurley, who has New Jersey roots as deep as Springsteen's. Hurley is from Jersey City, attended St. Anthony's and then Seton Hall and coached at St. Benedict's Prep.
Sanogo and freshman Samson Johnson both played high school basketball at The Patrick School in Hillside while Corey Floyd, Jr., who's taking a redshirt year, is from Franklin.
It will be UConn's last chance to secure a quality non-conference win before heading into the Big East schedule for the remainder of the season.
"This would be a great, great win for us if we were able to put ourselves in a position to get it," Hurley said. "That's all we're thinking about."
NO. 15 UCONN vs. ST. BONAVENTURE
Location: Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.
Tip: 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
Records: UConn 8-2, St. Bonaventure 8-1
Last game: UConn lost at West Virginia, 56-53, Wednesday; St. Bonaventure defeated Loyola Maryland, 84-71, Wednesday
Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 grad. guard R.J. Cole (16.1 pts, 4.3 assists), 6-6 so. Andre Jackson (6.6 pts, 7.2 rebs), 6-5 fr. guard Jordan Hawkins (7.5 pts), 6-9 grad. forward Isaiah Whaley (7.9 pts, 5.3 rebs), 6-9 r-jr. forward Akok Akok (4.5 pts, 5 rebs)
St. Bonaventure, 6-5 sr. guard Dominick Welch (10.8 pts, 5.6 rebs), 6-3 r-fr. guard Quadry Adams (3.1 pts), 6-4 sr. guard Jaren Holmes (17.2 pts, 7 rebs, 4.9 assists), 6-5 r-sr. guard Jalen Adaway (14.6 pts, 7.5 rebs), 6-10 sr. forward Osun Osunniyi (10.2 pts, 7.2 rebs, 3.2 blks)
Noteworthy: Second game of Never Forget Tribute Classic doubleheader. UConn women vs. UCLA in opener at 1 p.m. ... Series: UConn leads 2-1, winning the last meeting 95-78 in January 2003 at the XL Center. ... While coaching at URI, Dan Hurley went 5-3 against the Bonnies. ... Bonnies an unanimous preseason pick to win Atlantic-10. Kyle Lofton and Osunniyi preseason first team selections. ... Osunniyi league's defensive player of the year last season. ... Balanced attack: Five players average in double figures for St. Bonaventure. ... Common foe: Coppin State (UConn won 89-54, St. Bonaventure won 93-81). ... Injury update: Tyrese Martin (wrist, game-time decision), Adama Sanogo (abdominal strain, out), Lofton (ankle, questionable), who averages a team-best 17.4 pts. ... Hot: Whaley scored in double figures in three of the last four games, averaging 12.7 pts. Cold: Polley 4 for 15 from the field in last two games... In two losses this season, UConn 5 for 37 from 3-point range. Hit at least seven threes in every win. ... Last non-conference game for the Huskies. ... Up next: UConn hosts Providence Saturday, Dec. 18 in Hartford in its Big East opener.
— Gavin Keefe