NEWARK, N.J. – After a four-game home-stand, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (8-1, 0-0) are now Jersey bound as they will take on #15 UCONN at the Prudential Center on Saturday afternoon.
The game will tip-off following the conclusion of the UCLA-UCONN women’s game, which will likely be around 3:30 p.m.
It will air on ESPN2.
“I think our guys know that it’s a big game,” St. Bonaventure Coach Mark Schmidt said. “[It’s a] national stage [and we’re] playing a great opponent in UCONN. The guys know if they do not bring their A-game, it’s not going to be a game. If you don’t play at 100% against UCONN, you’re not going to win.”
Although Bona was ranked earlier in the year, the Brown and White have yet to play a Top-25 opponent so far this season.
Hence why Schmidt needs his team to bring their “A-game” on Saturday afternoon.
But before diving into the matchups, let’s quickly take a look at the injury report for this game.
As every Bonaventure fan knows by now, star point guard Kyle Lofton injured his left ankle on Dec. 1 against Coppin State.
Although it would be a homecoming of sorts for Lofton, given that he grew up in North Jersey, he likely will not suit up Saturday.
“It’s always day-to-day,” Schmidt said when asked about Lofton’s status. “We shall see what happens tomorrow.”
UCONN is down a couple of players as well.
Adama Sanogo, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward from Mali, has been out with an abdominal injury for the last few games. He will not suit up against Bona.
A key piece to the Husky front-court, Sanogo is currently averaging 15.6 points per game (PPG) and 6.3 rebounds per game. He has not suited up since Nov. 30. The hope is that he can return for Big East play.
Additionally, Tyrese Martin, a 6-foot-6 senior guard from Allentown, Pennsylvania, has been sidelined with a wrist injury since Nov. 26, when the Huskies defeated VCU in overtime. Martin, who transferred to UCONN after spending two years at Rhode Island, led his team in rebounding a season ago. He is currently third on the team in scoring and can guard multiple positions. There is an outside chance that Martin plays Saturday against Bonaventure. If so, he would provide a huge boost for the Huskies.
Scouting the Connecticut Huskies
If Martin is not ready to play Saturday, that leaves UCONN Coach Dan Hurley with a limited bench.
In this past Wednesday’s loss at West Virginia, Hurley employed an eight-man rotation with only seven of those players seeing 19 or more minutes of game action.
The game in Morgantown was a defensive slug-fest, with the Mountaineers prevailing 56-to-53. West Virginia employs a full-court press for most of the game, which usually wears down their opponents by the end of the second half.
That is likely what happened to the depleted Huskies, as UCONN held a slim three-point lead with four minutes to play. But the Mountaineers finished the game on an 8-to-2 run, stealing a victory from the 15th ranked team in the nation.
UCONN’s leading scorer, guard RJ Cole, finished with 14 points and shot 6-of-17 from the field.
A native of Union, New Jersey, Cole actually played on the same AAU team as Kyle Lofton growing up. He played his high school ball at St. Anthony’s in Jersey City, playing for the legendary Bobby Hurley Sr. He then went to Howard for two seasons before transferring to UCONN to play for Hurley’s son, Dan.
“He’s the leader,” Schmidt told me when I asked him about Cole. “He can shoot the ball from three, he can get into the paint, he has a three-level game, he shoots these floaters, and he’s never sped up. He pressures the ball, he’s really, really good.”
The Bonnies will certainly have their hands full with Cole, who was named to the Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team back in October.
To go along with a solid back-court led by Cole, UCONN has some tremendous size inside too.
Isaiah Whaley, a 6-foot-9 senior forward from Gastonia, North Carolina, led the team in scoring the other night against West Virginia with 15 points. He currently averages 7.9 PPG, but he has scored in double-figures in three of his last four with both Martin and Sanogo sidelined. In addition to a great post-up game, Whaley can let it fly from deep. He has made 40% of his three-point attempts thus far.
As a team, UCONN shoots 35.6% from downtown, which is good for 89th in the country, per KenPom.
But when this team misses, they crash the glass hard. The Huskies rank 6th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, according to KenPom.
Of course, Bona will have to box out Akok Akok, the 6-foot-9 junior forward from Manchester, New Hampshire. Although he currently averages just five rebounds per game, he has snagged 16 boards over his last two outings.
And finally, the Bonnies will have to watch out for Andre Jackson, who leads the team in rebounding as a 6-foot-6 guard. He averages 7.2 rebounds per game. Jackson will likely match up against Dom Welch or Jaren Holmes.
The Huskies may be banged up, but they are still the 15th ranked team in the country for a reason. Do not be surprised if this team makes a run to the Final Four in March.
How Do the Bonnies Win?
The last time St. Bonaventure defeated a Top 25 opponent was on Feb. 16, 2018 against #14 Rhode Island. Ironically enough, that was Dan Hurley’s last season as the head coach at Rhode Island.
In order to get their ninth win of the season, Bona’s defense has to step up and they need be competitive on the glass.
During the first five games of the season, the Bonnies allowed just 57.4 PPG. The defense was phenomenal. Lofton, Holmes, Welch, and Jalen Adaway all rotated beautifully while Osun Osunniyi locked down the paint.
But in the four games since, Bona has given up 76.5 PPG.
“Transition defense is huge,” Schmidt said. “[UCONN] wants to score in the open court, they have great open-court guys… so we gotta take care of the ball [to not allow those fast-breaks.]”
As always, good defense leads to good offense. UCONN’s bread-and-butter under Hurley has been their defense. Currently, the Huskies have allowed their opponents to shoot just 37%. Thus, limiting turnovers and getting good looks are important keys for Bona. They cannot afford to give up fast-breaks going the other way.
They will also need to box out defensively. Bona is the smaller team, so they will need to limit UCONN from having second chance opportunities. Of course, closing out shooters and standing tall inside forces missed shots, which leads to defensive rebounds.
On offense, the Bonnies have to drive to the paint. They have had tremendous success inside so far this season and will need to win the points in the paint battle tomorrow to have a chance at victory.
In the second half against Loyola, when Bona outscored the Greyhounds 46-to-30, the Bonnies made just one three-point field goal over the final 20 minutes. Both Adaway and Holmes were able to get inside and they will need to do more of that against the Huskies. Granted, UCONN is a much better team than Loyola, but the premise of driving to the basket, or getting the ball inside to Osunniyi is crucial.
After all, the most underrated aspect of Osunniyi’s game is his passing ability. Perhaps he can dish it out to Welch or Linton Brown spotted up in the corner for three. Or he can find Adaway cutting in along the baseline. Either way, the Bona offense shines when the ball goes inside.
And finally, Bona will need to keep sharing the wealth.
Holmes has recorded 17 assists over his past two games. He has filled in for Lofton beautifully, as I wrote following Bona’s victory over Loyola. He will need to do more of the same against the Huskies.
Ultimately, if Bonaventure’s “A-Game” shows up in Newark like it did in Charleston, they have a great chance of knocking off a marquee opponent.
Saturday’s matinee in Newark is perhaps the biggest non-conference game during Schmidt’s 14-year tenure at St. Bonaventure.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, St. Bonaventure Class of 1991, will be working as a sideline reporter for this game. When “Woj” is involved, it is obviously a big deal.
The Huskies come limping into Newark after a sluggish, hard-fought battle in the mountains of West Virginia. They are likely to be down two starters, which will only test their stamina against a scrappy Bonaventure team.
For the Bonnies, both Jalen Adaway and Jaren Holmes are on fire. Adaway, of course, hit the game-winner against Buffalo and then had 22 points against Loyola. Holmes, as mentioned above, has been the key to the offense over the past two games. He too had 22 points against the Greyhounds.
With all of this in mind, I feel that the first team to 65 points will win. I also think that UCONN loses back-to-back games for the first time since February.
St. Bonaventure 66, Connecticut 64
Jack Milko received his B.A. in Political Science from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He is now working to get his M.A. in Sports Journalism from St. Bonaventure University. A lifelong fan of the Bonnies, Jack covers the team for @A10Talk. Follow him on Twitter for more Bonnies coverage at @Jack_Milko.
Featured image courtesy of Dan Nelligan, St. Bonaventure Class of 2020, who serves as a photographer for @A10Talk.