STORRS - It was serendipitous that former UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun, the Hall of Famer who recently retired from Division III St. Joseph’s, stopped by Gampel Pavilion Friday to watch the Huskies practice.
Current UConn coach Dan Hurley, though he is an experienced and knowledgeable coach in his own right, probably can use some of Calhoun’s wisdom.
Calhoun, whenever his Huskies hit a rough patch during his 26 seasons in Storrs, was fond of saying with an extra dose of his typical sarcasm, “Well, we’re not putting away the basketballs for the winter.”
The same is true now.
UConn is going to keep playing, but December might be a rough month. And the picture for the New Year isn’t clear at this point.
Hurley revealed Friday before practice that star center Adama Sanogo has an abdominal injury that will keep him out of action indefinitely. That injury is on top of the sprained wrist of Tyrese Martin that the Huskies were already dealing with, an injury that will keep the senior wing sidelined at least two weeks.
UConn (7-1) is entering the final stretch of non-conference play down two starters, but Hurley is following established UConn protocols and is far from giving up.
“We’ve got to go win the next game. There’s not a game that we’re going to play with these guys out that there’s any excuse for us losing. That’s it,” Hurley said. “We’re at a point now where we’ve got to find a way.”
No. 17 UConn takes on Grambling State this afternoon at Gampel Pavilion (4 p.m., FS2) still unsure how long it will be without Sanogo.
The 6-foot-9, 240-pound sophomore suffered what has alternately been described as an “abdominal strain” and an “abdominal tear” by UConn officials. Hurley said he’s not exactly sure of the extent of Sanogo’s injury at this point or how much time he’ll miss.
“A couple weeks, three weeks is probably the absolute minimum,” Hurley said. “I think you probably won’t see him for longer than that.”
Sanogo left Tuesday’s game in the second half and did not return.
“You knew it wasn’t good when you go back to see the play on film,” Hurley said. “We turn the ball over and he tried to get the chase-down block. He lunged to get the chase-down block and you can see he then grimaced.”
Sanogo has started 26 straight games for the Huskies, the longest active streak on the team. Hurley has long praised the Mali native’s work ethic and dedication, which makes this turn of events all the more difficult for all involved.
“He’s all-in with this thing. So this one sucks. Because that guy is giving you 100 percent commitment,” Hurley said.
Fresh off a lackluster 72-63 win over Maryland-Eastern Shore Tuesday, the Huskies are now facing the prospect of playing multiple games short-handed.
UConn may have a vastly different way of playing over the next month.
“We have to re-invent ourselves,” Hurley said. “Between him and Tyrese, you’re talking about a ton of production there.”
In part because of the injuries, the Huskies were not nearly as tough as Hurley would have liked during Tuesday’s game. He doesn’t want to have any repeat performances as they move forward.
“Our fully formed team, we’re somebody that most people are not excited about playing because of how we show up and how we get after you,” Hurley said. “We were a shell of ourselves the other night,” Hurley said.
Today is the third of three games for the Huskies this season against teams from historically black colleges and universities (HBCU).
Grambling (3-5) is coming off a 71-44 win over Jarvis Christian College on Thursday. Jarvis Christian College is an NAIA school in Hawkins, Texas, with an enrollment of roughly 900 students.
Freshman Jordan Hawkins will likely start in place of Martin again today. For Sanogo’s spot, the Huskies are likely to turn to Akok Akok. The junior from Manchester, New Hampshire, has not yet performed this season as the coaching staff would have liked but Hurley says the onus is on Akok to contribute immediately.
“You have to get in the game and you have to make things happen. You have to get on the offensive glass, you have to get out in transition and run, you have to set a ball screen and roll. You have to find ways to be productive out there. You have to play great defense,” Hurley said. “This is an important time for him. There’s an opportunity here with Adama going down to have a chance at more minutes and to really get himself going. We need him to step up right now.”
Hawkins is already a solid shooter but knows he has to improve his defense as he takes many of Martin’s minutes for the time being.
“I’m definitely going to have to step up,” Hawkins said. “Losing ’Rese, he’s a really big guy, key contributor, tough guy, toughest guy on the team.”
After today, UConn has two key non-conference games next week against West Virginia and St. Bonaventure. Hurley, much as Calhoun used to, has no intention of waiving the proverbial white flag.
“It sucks that they’re two of our best players, guys that are playing like all-conference-level guys,” Hurley said. “But I’ve talked a lot about our depth. I’ve read a lot about our depth. So here we go.”