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Seton Hall was wrong team at wrong time for UConn

There was a moment Saturday afternoon that so perfectly illustrated the travails — and sometimes the absurdity — of basketball in a pandemic.

Late first half at Gampel Pavilion and the UConn Huskies are slogging along against Seton Hall. Suddenly, freshman Andre Jackson stalks a potential offensive rebound. Jackson, unabated from about the three-point line, charges the rim and throws down a thunderous rebound dunk.

Under normal circumstances, the students and the rest of Gampel would have been hysterical, threatening the roof. A certain affable, white-haired color commentator might have summoned a modern-day version of "send it in Jerome!"

Instead, Jackson's jam came to a mostly silent arena.

And there, in one scene, the story of the game was told. UConn vs. Seton Hall on Feb. 6, 2021 ... brought to you by COVID-19.

COVID: the reason the arena was without fans.

COVID: the reason UConn hadn't played since Jan. 26.

COVID: the reason UConn was on its third pause of the season, only this time having to navigate the veterans of Seton Hall, who had played three times since Jan. 26.

COVID: the reason the most relevant stat of this game was 19-12. That's the overall number of games played by both teams. Big edge to the Pirates, whose senior bent was already enough of an advantage.

And so while we live in this world of hot takes and grand pronouncements, sometimes the answers really are far more elementary. Forget that UConn doesn't have its best player. The Huskies haven't even played enough games.

"As disappointing as it was to lose," UConn coach Dan Hurley said after the 80-73 loss, "and as disappointing as it was to get down 18, you feel good about battling back, hanging in the game with two freshmen in there. It's a weird feeling.

"You're crushed that you lost. (But it was against) an older team, while we're playing two freshmen and missing one of the best players in the country (James Bouknight). We've got great potential."

Indeed.

This was a case of the wrong team at the wrong time. And while this might make the fandom grimace, Saturday would have been a grand time for a one-day return to the American. After a 10-day pause, pedestrian East Carolina would have been far preferable to seasoned Seton Hall.

Ah, but this is life in the big city. Surely, we all prefer the big city to Elba. Just not on this day.

"They're a lot to deal with," Hurley said of the Pirates.

They sure are. Veteran guards, a very likely pro in Sandro Mamukelashvili and a rim protector in Ike Obiagu (against whom Adama Sanogo did just fine, by the way).

"Nobody wants the pauses. Everybody wants to play," Hurley said. "To me (the early deficit) was absolutely a byproduct of having not played. Of being a little bit out of rhythm. I yelled at them to 'keep playing, you're getting great shots.' It hurts. When you go pause, it hurts. It's not an excuse. Just a reality."

There's really no such thing as an excuse this season. Who knows minute to minute when it all changes? Too many variables and external circumstances to make anything remotely normal. This is all a giant mulligan.

Surely, all the banners on the walls of Gampel suggest that moral victories went out with the old Fieldhouse. But the overarching conclusion from Saturday was too long of a pause against the wrong team. And yet some seeds were planted that will bloom.

Sanogo scored 12 points in a tough matchup. He had a McHale-like up-and-under against Obiagu in the second half that should have had UConn fans salivating. Down the road, how many other Big East teams will have a kid who knows his way around the post at that skill level?

Jackson, meanwhile, scored seven points in 20 minutes coming off injury. His aforementioned dunk preceded a three-pointer as the Huskies tried to stay tethered in the second half.

"An intense game," Hurley said. "Fun to be a part of. Lot of juice to that game. The benches were into it."

It's hard. Wait 10 days for a game and come within an eyelash.

But that's why patience is a conquering virtue, Chaucer said.

And while better days feel as though they're coming with the speed of an arthritic snail, they are coming.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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