Connecticut waited nearly two years for the debut of 6-foot-11 Ater Majok. For at least one game, the highly touted freshman did not live up to the hype.
Majok looks to put a disappointing opening act behind him Tuesday night when the 11th-ranked Huskies host Maine at Hartford’s XL Center.
Majok, a forward with a 7-foot-7 wingspan, had a less-than-auspicious debut in a 60-51 win over Central Florida on Sunday, finishing with one point and three rebounds in 16 minutes. The former refugee from Sudan committed to Connecticut (7-2) in May 2008 but had not been eligible until the end of the 2009 fall semester.
“He certainly did not have the kind of debut he or I would have expected. Not that it was going to be spectacular, but certainly it could have been better,” coach Jim Calhoun said. “He didn’t look like he was ready to play, and was very hesitant about everything that he did. He’s a shot-blocker who didn’t block shots. He’s a rebounder who didn’t rebound. He’s always had a great engine. That engine was shut off.”
Majok was also upset with his play, and plans on using the poor performance to drive him.
“The game is going to be a learning experience,” he said. “It’s always going to be there. Every time I feel like ‘Why am I here?’ that (game) will be my motivation. I don’t want to have that feeling anymore.”
Majok wasn’t the only UConn player that came out flat.
Playing their first game since a 64-61 loss to then-No. 4 Kentucky on Dec. 9, the Huskies turned the ball over 13 times and shot 5 of 14 in the first half. UConn trailed by as many as nine before Stanley Robinson powered a rally with 23 of his 26 points after the break.
“We’re good, and we can be really good if we play hard,” Calhoun said. “If we don’t play hard, we’re not going to just out-talent you. You have to play hard every night.”
UConn played pretty well in its last game against Maine, a 105-60 victory Dec. 22, 2007. Robinson had a career-high 32 points as the Huskies won their ninth straight over the Black Bears. UConn leads the series 80-16, with the 2007 meeting being the first since 1993.
Maine (5-4) has not played since a 57-51 win over Kennesaw State on Dec. 13, as the Bears’ game against Princeton on Sunday was postponed because of snow.
Gerald McLemore paced the Bears with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting in his third straight outstanding performance. The sophomore guard averaged 22.0 points and shot 54.5 percent in his last three games after averaging 8.5 points and 27.5 percent from the field in his previous four.
Maine, coached by former UConn assistant Ted Woodward, has won three of four, the lone defeat in that span a 101-55 loss at then-No. 8 Syracuse on Dec. 5. The Black Bears are 0-6 against Top 25 opponents since the start of the 1996-97 season.