Huskies don't have finishing touch in loss to West Virginia

Published on Thursday, 9 December 2021 19:50

Journal Inquirer

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Jordan Hawkins wasn’t the only member of his team to miss a jump shot Wednesday night. There were plenty of clangs off the glass, thumps off the backboard, and nearly silent airballs to go around.

But none of the Huskies took his misses as hard as Hawkins in No. 15 UConn’s 56-53 loss to West Virginia at the WVU Coliseum.

“We’re trying to keep Jordan’s head up. He’s really disappointed,” UConn senior forward Isaiah Whaley said. “We keep trying tell him he did really good. He’s a freshman still, he’s still learning. He’s really down on himself but we’re keeping him up.”

Hawkins missed all seven of his shots from the floor, including three from beyond the 3-point arc. The freshman from Gaithersburg, Maryland finished with two points, five rebounds and four turnovers.

Coming off a game in which he scored 15 points and made three of his five attempts from long range, Hawkins obviously expected more. But scoring against a Bob Huggins-coached team with the kind of athletes West Virginia has is not an easy proposition.

And no one, Hawkins included, scored down the stretch for UConn.

The Huskies went scoreless for the game’s final four minutes, save a put-back by Whaley with 7 seconds to go and his team trailing by four.

R.J. Cole attempted an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have sent the game to overtime but it was off the mark.

It was one of 19 missed 3-pointers by the Huskies Wednesday.

“The 3-for-23 from three, obviously that’s a tough one,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said, missing the Huskies’ official 3-for-21 stat by a couple. “I’d say eight, nine or 10 of those were pretty good looks. We make a couple of them, we walk out with a win.”

The 3-for-21 might have cost the Huskies a win.

It also could have been West Virginia’s surprise 1-3-1 defense.

Either way, it wasn’t the Huskies’ passion or their defensive performance. They just needed more points.

Whaley led UConn (8-2) with 15 points while Cole added 14. But down two starters because of injuries, the Huskies clearly struggled to find other offensive options.

“It was a tough spot. You just worry with this group, the way we’re currently constituted, where to go with the ball on offense,” Hurley said.

The obvious thinking was Jordan is capable of carrying more of a scoring load.

This particular scenario proved too tall a task, however.

“Obviously Jordan, for a freshman, that’s a tough deal for him. Coming in, first college road start, (Sean) McNeil, (Taz) Sherman, being matched up McNeil, who is a heck of a player, and those guys are making tough shots,” Hurley said. “He (Hawkins) had a rough night. We needed him or Tyler (Polley) to give us something from the perimeter.”

But no one, save for a 30-second span midway through the second half when Cole buried a couple of treys, gave UConn much from the perimeter.

Hawkins has been touted as the next James Bouknight, the former UConn star who is a rookie with the Charlotte Hornets. And Hawkins might still be that guy. Hurley will make sure he understands one bad night doesn’t make a career.

“I’ll remind Jordan that Bouknight, his first couple of high-major games, road and neutral, weren’t a walk in the park. And Bouknight was able to recover,” Hurley said.

Hawkins, like many of us, might be a little impatient when he hears those words.

“He wants to really be good for us, like now,” Whaley said. “He wants to be, like, perfect. And nobody’s really perfect. So whenever he does something or messes something up, he really shows it. We’re trying to keep him positive.”

It’s ridiculous to say that Hawkins’ play cost the Huskies a victory Wednesday. And it’s a slight exaggeration to say Hawkins’ turnover in the final seconds of the Huskies’ loss to Michigan State in the Bahamas cost his team a win there.

But it’s not overstating it to say that Hawkins sometimes takes those plays harder than this teammates. His head bows, his shoulders slump, and his legs buckle.

His teammates don’t seem to have lost an ounce of confidence in Hawkins, though.

“Just keep playing. He’s a hell of a ball player,” Cole said when asked what advice he’s giving his young teammate. “He wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t. So just continue to keep with it and weather the storm. We’ve got his back through anything.”

Neill Ostrout is the sports editor of the Journal Inquirer.

Posted in New Britain Herald, UConn on Thursday, 9 December 2021 19:50. Updated: Thursday, 9 December 2021 19:53.