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For a few weeks, Connecticut coach Danny Hurley was hoping R.J. Cole would provide some of the offense his team was missing in the absence of leading scorer James Bouknight.
The moment finally occurred in a critical win at Xavier and Hurley is hoping Cole can duplicate his best game of the season Tuesday when the Huskies host Providence in Storrs, Conn.
Cole and Tyrese Martin are the second-leading scorers (12.1 points) for the Huskies (9-5, 6-5 Big East), who have been without Bouknight since Jan. 5 due to an elbow injury, and his prognosis and return remains cloaked in secrecy. The Huskies are 4-4 in eight games without Bouknight and had lost four of five prior to Saturday's 80-72 win at Xavier.
That's when Cole scored a season-high 24 points, making 7 of 14 from the floor and hitting five 3-pointers to go with his season-high seven assists.
"We need more of those types of performances," Hurley said, "that type of a game and to be that dialed in for the full game. I grabbed him on the way out, because he had a great first half, 12 points and five assists and no turnovers, and he hasn't given us that second half in games that put us over the top. That's why we've struggled so much since Bouknight has been out."
In his previous seven games before Saturday, Cole shot 40 percent (28-of-70) and was moved to the bench after scoring 12 points in an 80-73 loss against Seton Hall on Feb. 6.
"He's been pushing me a lot lately," Cole said. "The last couple of games he's been really at me to get me to this point."
Cole, after all, had averaged 22.5 points a game in his freshman and sophomore seasons at Howard before transferring to UConn. Previously, he starred for St. Anthony High in Jersey City, playing for Bob Hurley (Danny's father).
Against Xavier, the Huskies also got significant contributions from Martin (15 points and nine rebounds), Isaiah Whaley (12 points, 10 rebounds), who played through ankle injuries.
Providence (11-10, 7-8) is seeking a third straight win. After beating UConn 70-59 last Wednesday, the Friars followed it up Saturday with a 57-47 victory at DePaul when they held the Blue Demons to two field goals in a stretch of 11:42 in the second half.
David Duke posted a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds on a night when Nate Watson was held to four points (13 off his average).
"It's not easy, especially in this league," Duke said. "Before the game, we preached defense, getting back in transition, locking in. All of us did a great job."
In that game, Cole was UConn's top scorer with 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting, in Providence's second straight stout defensive effort after allowing 92 points in a nine-point loss to St. John's on Feb. 6.
--Field Level Media