UConn’s Adama Sanogo emerging as a beast in the Big East as his power game starts to pay multiple dividends for Huskies

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  • Adama Sanogo
    College basketball player (2020–202_) Connecticut

UConn men’s basketball forward Adama Sanogo has a knack for being at the right place at the right time.

On Wednesday night, the UConn men’s basketball team trailed by one with two seconds left in the fourth quarter against St. John’s. After Huskies guard Tyrese Martin missed the jumper, Sanogo was right under the rim to corral the offensive rebound. The sophomore went up strong and was fouled by St. John’s Aaron Wheeler, sending him to the line. Sanogo sank the first free throw while missing the second, and the game went into overtime.

Ultimately, the Huskies avoided another close loss, pulling off an overtime 86-78 win against St. John’s at Gampel Pavilion on Wednesday night.

It was Sanogo - all 6 feet 9 and 240 pounds - who played the biggest role in their victory.

He finished with 26 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks after putting up 18 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks in UConn’s 90-87 overtime loss to Seton Hall last Saturday. Perhaps the craziest part of this is Sanogo is playing through some pain, as he told media after the Seton Hall game. After the St. John’s win, he said he felt a lot healthier.

Sanogo battled an abdominal injury that sidelined him for four games in December.

“Because of the nature of his injury, he couldn’t do anything with a basketball or any cardio or any running,” said UConn coach Dan Hurley of Sanogo’s rehab. “When you tear your abdominal muscle you are completely shut down. ... He couldn’t do anything.”

When he came back for the Marquette game on Dec. 21 he injured his hamstring. He went into the Seton Hall game questionable and was supposed to play to under 20 minutes. He played 32.

He has looked like a potential Big East player of the year in his last two games. He’s taken smart shots, wrestled for rebounds, made his presence felt on the defensive end with devastating blocks and been the superstar Huskies fans have been clamoring for. He’s playing like a player who knows very few people can stop him in college basketball, much less in the Big East.

“He just has so much self-belief,” Hurley said. “He just does not blink. He thinks he’s better than everybody, and you cannot convince him otherwise. But he works like he’s a nobody on his game. He’s humble that way but arrogant when the ball goes up. That’s what you need to do in sports.”

According to ESPN, Sanogo is the first UConn player since Emeka Okafor with 15-plus points and 15-plus rebounds in consecutive games. According to KenPom rankings, Sanogo is first (17.8%) in offensive rebound percentage and second (30.8%) in defensive rebound percentage in the Big East Conference play.

Sanogo’s offensive presence funnels defenders to the paint, leaving UConn shooters open in the corners. In games Sanogo has played, UConn is shooting 85-for-207 (41.06%) beyond the arc. In the four games he missed, the Huskies shot 29-for-104 (27.88%) from 3. On the defensive end, Sanogo is an elite pain presence. The Huskies had 14 blocks against St. John’s, six of which were Sanogo’s. Often, when a UConn defender gets beat off the dribble, it’s Sanogo who plays elite help defense and challenges opponents at the rim. He’s sixth in the Big East in block rate percentage with 8.13%.

“He’s a great player, Hurley said. “When he doesn’t play, it sucks for us. The guy is a monster. His presence affects our 3-point shooting, too. It has a cascading effect —the rim protection at the defensive end of the court and the physicality. We shoot the ball better when he plays. We get better looks at 3s because teams are very concerned with guarding him. Again today, we went 9-for-22 from 3, and that’s not a coincidence.”

The next step of improvement for Sanogo is passing out of the post when he gets doubled. He has acknowledged that as an issue in the past, and he’s made strides., He still has ways to go. In the St. John’s game, he only had three turnovers. It was getting pressured in the post that caused them.

As UConn continues to find itself in a dogfight in the Big East, the Huskies will go as far as Sanogo goes. If he can keep this form, the Huskies will be a tough out come March.

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