STORRS, Conn. – Look around college basketball and there might not be a team with a shorter bench than the Connecticut Huskies. That limited depth has taken an extended hit with the news that reserve guard R.J. Evans will miss at least two weeks with an injury.
Evans suffered a sternal-clavicular (collar bone) sprain in practice Thursday and will miss game action starting with Sunday's contest against Stony Brook (4 p.m., Gampel Pavilion). The good news is that nothing is broken. Otherwise the time without Evans might have stretched out to six weeks.
The other bad news is that Leon Tolksdorf has also suffered a mild left knee sprain and will be sidelined for the Stony Brook (4-1) game as well. There won't be a lot of eligible bodies on the bench for the Huskies Sunday.
UConn (4-1) has four games on the schedule through Dec. 7 and then will take a 10-day break for final exams.
Evans, a graduate student and transfer from Holy Cross, has been UConn's glue guy so far this season – despite coming off the bench. He provides hustle, leadership, experience, and has sparked the Huskies with his aggressive play. Evans is UConn's fifth leading scorer (5.8 ppg), has eight steals, and is averaging 1.8 rebounds.
"He got hurt in a box-out drill," guard Ryan Boatright said. "He just got tangled up with Tyler [Olander] and came down on his shoulder a little awkward. He hit the floor. It could have happened to anybody. It wasn't intentional, just the luck of the draw. He got the bad end."
The injury to Evans leaves UConn with only seven players who have played in all five games for coach Kevin Ollie. Beyond that, Phillip Nolan has played 32 minutes in four games and Tolksdorf has played 11 minutes in two games.
"R.J. is a huge piece in our success and we can't wait to get him back," Boatright said. "When I come out [of a game], he can come in and provide. He doesn't do anything to hurt you; he only does things to help. He's a veteran, smart player. He brings a positive energy on and off the court.
"Everybody is going to have to pick their game up. Me and Bazz [Shabazz Napier] are going to have to rebound a little more. And somebody else has to step up and fill his points. It's got to be a team effort."
Ollie echoed those words.
"Everybody's got to step up," Ollie said. "He's playing an integral part. He's playing 20 minutes a game. And he's doing a lot of key things for us that don't show up in the stats. You can't be R.J. but you can be yourself. You can grow and evolve. There's going to be some roles that are different. Hopefully guys will understand that."
Ollie said freshman guard Omar Calhoun may be asked to play some point guard "if one of the guys get hurt or one of the guys get in foul trouble."
The other concern for Ollie heading into this stretch back on the mainland is rebounding. Opponents have outrebounded the Huskies by an average an average of 38.2 to 29.6. Stony Brook, coached by former UConn captain and assistant coach Steve Pikiell, gets after it on the boards. The Seawolves are averaging 41 rebounds a game.
In an 82-75 win over Canisius at home Saturday, the Seawolves won the battle on the boards 47-32 and converted 19 offensive boards into 21 second-chance points. Forward Tommy Brenton, one of the most versatile players in the country, had 14 rebounds.
"You not only have to hit first, you have to go get the basketball," Ollie said. "You can't just sit and wait and think the ball is going to come right in your hands. We're challenging the guys."
Ollie said the coaching staff has been coming in with different schemes and drills to reinforce that philosophy as the Huskies try to bounce back from their first loss of the season.
"Yesterday at practice all we did was rebound and box out," said forward DeAndre Daniels, UConn's second-leading rebounder with a 3.8 average. "That's all we were really working on. It helps because we've got to get all our guys boxing out. It's the whole team."
The Seawolves originally were on UConn's schedule Nov. 13 but were invited to play in the ESPN 24-hour marathon against Rider on that date. UConn cooperated and changed the date. But now Pikiell's team faces its own two-day marathon of hoops.
Ollie said Brenton presents a big challenge for the Huskies.
"He's averaging 8.4 rebounds and leading them in assists," Ollie said. "We know he's a great player. He's their leader. When he's active and in position to make plays, they feed off it."