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Praise the Lord and pass the Mylanta until Bouknight returns

It was late, great statesman and activist John Lewis who once said famously, "If you don't do everything you can do to change things, then they will remain the same."

Lewis was clearly referring to matters far more significant than a clinking, clanking offense. But say this much for UConn coach Dan Hurley: He summoned his inner John Lewis the day before Saturday's game at Creighton, taking his swing at changing things, namely the energy from a group with, in his words, too many quiet guys.

"I feel like they lean too much on me to create the energy," Hurley said. "We need more of a player-driven team than a coach-driven team."

And then Hurley perhaps realized a painful lesson all over again Saturday at CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska: You can try all you want to infuse passion and energy into your team. But it will always manifest itself somewhere other than on offense. Loosely translated: You can score or you can't.

This is the painful presence now of UConn basketball. The offense is limited without leading scorer James Bouknight. Until he returns, this will be the Tractor Pull Du Jour.

"I thought we gave a pretty good effort for the most part," Hurley said after the 74-66 loss. "We played hard. Not the same storyline as St. John's where we got out-toughed. ... We competed hard. We were tougher. But we can't finish. We had a hard time scoring."

Indeed. The effort was there. They outrebounded Creighton 42-27. The bench was plenty into the game, but even that backfired thanks to fussbudget official Brent Hampton, whose boxers got in a bundle when the entire bench was standing and cheering during an inbounds play. Can't have that, apparently.

Hampton asked the players to sit. Perhaps someone can explain the wisdom here. Under normal circumstances, players are asked to sit, conceivably to accommodate the sight lines of fans behind the bench. Not applicable in this time of COVID. Hurley was understandably irritated and got hit with a technical.

But none of the magnified intensity could combat an offense that coughed and wheezed its way to 66 points on 37 percent shooting.

"The number of layups we missed, the putbacks, point blank shots, it's frustrating," Hurley said. "How do you fix that? It's hard for us to get closer (to the basket) than we're getting. ... We had no chance of winning a game (Saturday) that got outside the 60s. I don't know how many we're going to have a chance to win that go north of 60, based on what we're putting on the court right now."

It's a Coors Light cold hard fact. Put it this way: Who on this UConn team at the moment is one of those "you have to game plan for this guy" kind of players? Who scares you? Who worries the other coach into thinking, "if we don't guard this guy, he'll get 40."

That's only James Bouknight. Gone are the days, apparently, when Tyler Polley was thought to be the reliable No. 2 scorer. Since Polley was Big East Player of the Week, he's been in witness protection. UConn's best chance moving forward is to pray that somebody has a hot hand on a particular night. It will vary game to game.

Example: The very promising Adama Sanogo had 13 points on 5 for 9 shooting Saturday. But as Hurley said after, "If someone had said to me (before the season) that Adama would be our most reliable player, I'd be saying we have some issues."

This just in: They have some issues. And so Hurley can maintain the "cauldron of intensity" in practice. He can keep the "Captain Brutality" persona. Makes for good conversation and keeps Twitter interesting. But the ability to score is a skill. The kid with the greatest skill on the team is out for a while. And that means every game will be fingernails on the chalkboard until he returns.

It's not what a starving fan base wants to see or hear. Bouknight's injury isn't merely unfortunate for the kid. He's the exact last kid this Connecticut team could afford to lose. His absence will make his presence all the more significant one day. But until then, it's praise the Lord and pass the Mylanta.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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