Looking to bolster tourney chances, UConn faces Marquette

NCAA Men's Basketball

Looking to bolster tourney chances, UConn faces Marquette

Just in time, the pieces could be falling into place for UConn.

Most observers list the Huskies still on the NCAA Tournament bubble as they entertain Big East rival Marquette on Saturday afternoon. But UConn (11-6, 8-6 Big East) has won three of its last four games, has big-time scorer James Bouknight back, and coach Dan Hurley sees an emerging star in point guard R.J. Cole.

“When (Bouknight) is in rhythm and has had some games to play, and obviously the team jells, we’re a team that has shown it can win a lot of games,” Hurley said. “We’re a really good team when we’re fully loaded and healthy.”

Bouknight, who injured his left elbow in UConn’s win at Marquette on Jan. 5, had surgery and missed eight games before returning Feb. 16. He is averaging 20.1 points, which would lead the Big East if he hadn’t missed time.

Cole, a junior, is averaging 12.4 points and 4.3 assists. In UConn’s 70-57 win Tuesday at Georgetown, he finished with 17 points, seven assists, six steals and zero turnovers.

“He’s had halves, and a couple of full games, where he’s looked like the type of really, really good point guard that should be leading the Huskies,” Hurley said.

Also, UConn is leading the conference in allowing only 64.8 points per game. That could be bad news for Marquette, which is averaging just 70.8, ranking in the lower half of the conference — and the lower half of Division I.

However, the Golden Eagles (11-12, 6-10) have won two straight games since losing six of seven. They need to win the Big East Tournament next month if they want to go to the NCAA dance.

The second of those wins came Wednesday at North Carolina, 83-70, a nonconference game that arose when both schools had pandemic-induced scheduling gaps. The Tar Heels hoped to boost their sagging NCAA portfolio. Instead, they met Marquette freshman Dawson Garcia.

Garcia shot 9 of 13 from the field in netting a season-high 24 points, nearly doubling his season average, and had 11 rebounds. He has had an up-and-down season, with six games of at least 20 points, but going scoreless in 27 minutes in a six-point loss at Seton Hall on Feb. 14.

“When you coach really good players, there’s going to be peaks and valleys, especially when they’re freshmen, but those guys generally respond,” coach Steve Wojciechowski said after Wednesday’s win.

“Dawson was a man tonight. I’ve been around a lot of freshmen that have played in the Dean Dome that had not come anywhere close to what he did tonight.”

Garcia, who is hitting 48.6 percent of his shots, including 37.1 percent from long range, leads the team in both scoring (13.1 points per game) and rebounding (6.7). D.J. Carton is next with 12.8 points per game and a team-best 3.4 assists, and Koby McEwen is at 11.2 ppg.

–Field Level Media

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