UConn men visit Georgetown with NCAA hopes on the line

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Neill Ostrout, Journal Inquirer, Manchester, Conn.
·4 min read
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Feb. 23—There is virtually no time left in the college basketball season. And there is certainly very little time for James Bouknight to rest.

Still, that's what UConn coach Dan Hurley intends to do with his star guard during games. Well, he at least plans to do it a little more than he did over the weekend against Villanova.

The Huskies have four games left in the regular season, beginning with tonight's clash against Georgetown at McDonough Arena on the Hoyas' campus, and keeping Bouknight fresh for the stretch run is obviously paramount for UConn.

Bouknight has scored 39 points in the two games since his return from an elbow injury, but he tired noticeably at the end of UConn's 68-60 loss to No. 10 Villanova on Saturday. The plan today and going forward is to play Bouknight fewer than the 33-and-a-half minutes he played against the Wildcats.

"We could have tried to get him more rest in the last game. That's easier said than done when you're in a game like that against Villanova where you can't allow yourself to get a possession or two behind," Hurley said Monday night on a Zoom call with reporters. "It was hard to do on Saturday."

A quick rest just before or after the scheduled timeouts will help, Hurley explains and says of Bouknight's time on the court: "We have to keep him closer to 30, 32 minutes."

UConn (10-6, 7-6 Big East) is firmly on the bubble as far as NCAA Tournament qualification. The selection committee will undoubtedly give the Huskies leeway when reading their resume considering Bouknight's eight-game absence, but it won't give them a free pass.

The Huskies clearly need to pile up wins as the season winds down.

To that end, it will be hard to win if the Huskies hit only 29.6 percent of their shots in the second half as they did on Saturday.

There was way too much standing around and watching Bouknight by the UConn players.

"James is going to find his offense within the flow of how we play. He doesn't have to hunt it. And we don't have to stand around and watch him," Hurley said.

As for the sophomore star, he will, Hurley hopes, be in slightly better shape tonight than he was in his last outing. But Bouknight is learning that it takes a while to return to "game shape" even though he was working out regularly while his elbow healed.

"You can run on a treadmill and do condition with the strength coach all you want but the stress of game play, particularly the stress of that particular game ... it drained him pretty good," Hurley said.

And although defense isn't necessarily Bouknight's calling card, his coach doesn't want him resting at one of the court just so he can score more points.

"He's got to be smart with how he uses his energy but we need it at both ends of the court," Hurley said.

Georgetown (7-10, 5-7) has won four of its last six games, including an 81-75 win over Seton Hall Saturday. The Hoyas also own a win over Creighton this season.

"They found themselves and they're playing with a lot of confidence," Hurley said.

Rematch set

The second game between UConn and Georgetown this season will be played March 6 in Storrs. That game will tip off at noon, the Big East announced Monday. That game will be aired nationally on CBS and seen locally on WFSB-TV3.

Football fan

Hurley was wearing a Manchester City soccer shirt during his meeting with reporters Monday night.

"Christmas present," he said. "I'm a big fan of Champions League soccer."

Hurley is the former head basketball coach at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, New Jersey. Two former U.S. National team standouts, Claudio Reyna and Tab Ramos, both attended St. Benedict's and Hurley said that's part of the reason he became a fan of the sport in general.

Neill covers UConn men's basketball and UConn football teams, and he keeps a finger on the pulse of Connecticut sports. For live game updates, and more insight into UConn athletics, player transfers, and team changes, follow Neill on Twitter: @NeillOstrout, Facebook: JINeillO, and Instagram: @NeillOstrout.