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UConn sophomores Jackson, Sanogo continue to elevate their games

UConn sophomores Andre Jackson and Adama Sanogo share a similar passion for basketball as well as a relentless work ethic.

They're driven and determined to make themselves and the program successful.

"What a great class," coach Dan Hurley said on Monday. "Obviously, the talent is outstanding and the work ethic and commitment. These guys basically live in the (practice) facility, so they've got a very similar makeup.

"And they're both desperate to win. They really care about our team winning."

Entering Tuesday's Big East game against Georgetown at Gampel Pavilion, Jackson and Sanogo significantly contributed to No. 20 UConn's success this season.

They've played especially well in recent weeks.

In the last five games, Jackson, a 6-foot-6 guard, has done it all, averaging 9.8 points, seven rebounds, three assists and 1.4 steals.

Sanogo, a 6-9 forward, has chipped in 15.6 points, 12 rebounds and 3.4 blocks during that same span. He's moved into contender territory for Big East player of the year honors.

Both players could also be considered as candidates for most improved player in the league.

Jackson's numbers are up from last season in every area, including points (2.7 to 7.8) and rebounds (2.9 to 7.8). He already has more total assists, blocks, steals than in 2020-21 while playing one more game. His field goal percentage has improved from 41 percent to 47.8 and 3-point field goal percentage from 11.8 to a team-best 53.8.

Sanogo has more than doubled his scoring average, going from 7.3 to 15.6 points, while his rebounding numbers have risen from 4.8 to 8.5 per game. He went from blocking just under one shot per game to 2.4. His field goal percentage is down slightly, dipping from 55.4 to 53.8 percent, which could be attributed to defenses playing extra attention to him.

They're forming a strong connection on the court, with Jackson regularly looking to set up Sanogo under the basket.

"It makes sense with Andre's ability to facilitate and Adama's ability to finish," Hurley said. "Andre has been our best passer in ball screens this year, obviously with R.J. (Cole) as well."

Dishing out playing time

There's no mystery about how Hurley decides to hand out playing time on game day.

Sometimes, his decision comes down to matchups, but mostly effort and impact on a game.

"If you're doing things on the court that are going to help us win, I'm going to play you more," Hurley said. "If you do things, for all of our guys, that are going to prevent us from winning, I've got to get you off the court."

For instance, take the cases of veteran reserves Jalen Gaffney and AkokAkok.

Gaffney, who's underperformed this season, played 17 minutes — the most since Dec. 11 against St. Bonaventure — in Thursday's win over Butler because he was a positive influence. He finished with six points, three rebounds, two assists, a steal, a block and no turnovers.

"That was great for Jalen," Hurley said. "He needed that. It was a real confidence builder for him. He was a lot tougher, defensively. He had the great steal and the dunk. I thought he guarded with some physicality, which was big for him."

UConn fans regularly clamor for Akok to get more playing time. But he's been inconsistent. He played a season low three minutes at Butler Thursday after playing 22 minutes versus Butler on Tuesday, Jan. 18.

One difference between the two performances: Akok was far more active and productive in the first Butler game than the second.

"Akok has got to get on the defensive glass, block a shot," Hurley said. "Do things to impact winning. ... Even if it's a tough matchup for him, I want to be able to play him more than that. He's got to impact things more."

Paying tribute

Leading up to UConn's annual Coaches vs. Cancer game on Tuesday, Hurley thought about his father-in-law, Ken Sirakides, who passed away in 2005 from cancer at the age of 52.

"Still on the anniversary of his death, or his birthday, or the wedding anniversary, it affects my wife and their family," Hurley said. "It's very emotional. And I think about him a lot.

"Before I even met my wife (Andrea), he used to go and see our St. Anthony's teams play just because he was a business person and a leader. He was studying people like my Dad, because again he was a leader and a business person, and he was probably ahead of his time that way in terms of watching other leaders work.

"He died young and me and him were close."

News and notes

Hurley is a big fan of the Cincinnati Bengals. Here's his prediction for Sunday's playoff game at Kansas City: "The Chiefs are great. I'll take my Bengals winning by six, 30-24. They'll intercept (Patrick) Mahomes at the goal line to go to the Super Bowl." ... The Big East has five teams – No. 14 Villanova, No. 17 Providence, No. 20 UConn, No. 21 Xavier, No. 22 Marquette – ranked in the Associated Press top 25 poll for the first time since Feb. 17, 2020. ... Georgetown's Aminu Mohammed is the top scoring and rebounding freshman in the Big East, averaging 13.6 and 8.2, respectively. ... Up next: UConn visits DePaul Saturday in Chicago.

g.keefe@theday.com

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