UConn passed its first test while playing without two of its starters.
The No. 15 Huskies (8-1) will face a tougher exam on Wednesday, however, when they play their first true road game of the season against West Virginia (7-1) in Morgantown, W. Va.
UConn relied on its depth to overcome the absences of its second- and third-leading scorers in Adama Sanogo and Tyrese Martin, respectively, in an 88-59 victory over Grambling State on Saturday. Martin is expected to be sidelined at least two weeks with an avulsion fracture in his left wrist, while Sanogo could miss at least three weeks with an abdominal strain.
R.J. Cole collected 18 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals to pace the Huskies, who have won three in a row and are off to their best start since the 2013-14 season. Nine players recorded at least a point and logged as many as 12 minutes.
“That’s the point of the strength of the pack,” said Cole, who averages team-best totals in points (16.3), assists (4.4) and steals (1.7). “Everybody steps up at any given moment, no matter what the situation is. So, we just told each other that out there, just stay together, stick to our identity and everything will work out.”
The aggressive Huskies applied full-court pressure and forced turnovers. Cole converted 10 of 11 shots from the line, while Isaiah Whaley finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
“When you lose two all-conference-level guys, and then you know you got R.J. and Isaiah,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “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 got to give us more.”
Jordan Hawkins matched a season high with three 3-pointers to highlight his 15-point performance on Saturday.
“I’ve always been comfortable with my shots. I’m taking more now,” Hawkins said. “I got to step up (with) guys out. I need to shoot more and knock ’em down.”
West Virginia answered its lone loss to Big East representative Marquette on Nov. 19 with four straight victories, including a 67-51 win over Radford on Saturday.
Taz Sherman erupted for 27 points for the Mountaineers, who improved to 5-0 at home despite playing Saturday’s game without second-leading scorer Sean McNeil (back).
Sherman’s performance notwithstanding, West Virginia was unable to get consistent scoring from any other member of the team on Saturday. Sherman (program-best 21.0 points) and McNeil (12.0) are the lone Mountaineers averaging double-digit scoring.
While West Virginia was able to turn back Radford, coach Bob Huggins said that type of performance likely won’t fly against the Huskies.
“On Wednesday, you’re going to see some athletes now,” Huggins said. “They have athletes and they are as athletic a bunch as we’ve played in quite a while so obviously we’re going to try and figure something out here.”
UConn is playing its first road game against West Virginia since March 2, 2011, when both schools were members of the Big East Conference.
–Field Level Media