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Hartford finally gets a much-needed break in the action

November 27, 2013 Columns, Your Phil of Hoops No Comments
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UNCASVILLE, Conn. – John Gallagher doesn’t have to look far for answers. They’re all right in front of the Hartford mentor and all part of the team that is off to a 2-5 start after dropping two at Mohegan Sun Arena in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off this weekend. They’re all going to get a break, too, and it couldn’t come at a better time.

“I thought, seven games in 15 days, this is on our second back-to-back in a two-week stretch, we had no legs and we didn’t have the juice that we play with,” said Hartford’s head coach.

Hartford was never in Sunday’s blowout loss to Holy Cross. Gallagher called a timeout right away and could be heard saying, “I’m not doing this tonight,” which was probably a preview of things to come. You can sense he had a feeling that was not going to end well. Sure enough, the Hawks fell behind 18-1 as Holy Cross sped them up and took them right out of the game. Evidence of how badly the Hawks played in the half was easy to find: they were 1-13 from the field (7.7 percent) and had 13 turnovers.

It’s a game you can throw out in terms of evaluating them; while still a loss, it’s not an accurate reflection of the team although it does tell you that they’re struggling right now. It also gives you an idea that this team has had a lot on its plate.

Gallagher knows his team, and he can see the wear and tear on them. They’ve played seven games, all between November 9 and 24, with no days off. Twice they have played on back-to-back days, although you can’t blame them for it. One included a national TV game at Florida Gulf Coast as part of the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon, and the other was this weekend. You can’t blame them for not passing up the opportunities they brought, but they also didn’t show well in them. Talking to him about it, you can sense a small amount of regret with it, but not a loss of faith or focus.

“I just maybe challenged them too much,” said Gallagher. “I put them in too many uncomfortable situations. We put them in there, two back-to-backs – NBA teams don’t play two back-to-backs in a two-week span – we did that. Every coach here at the banquet came up to me and made a comment, ‘I can’t believe you’re playing two back-to-backs in a two-week span.’ That is because I just wanted to see where we were, and obviously we’re just not good enough.”

Gallagher isn’t saying they aren’t good enough to contend in America East, which is what matters. That’s their route to the NCAA Tournament. They just aren’t good enough for the massive challenge he put them up to early on. Few teams would be, for that matter, so it’s not a knock on them.

“We know how to win,” Gallagher said. “We’ve got to get back to the core of who we are and make a few adjustments.”

The Hawks certainly have clear areas for improvement. They allow opponents to shoot 49 percent from the field and give the ball away more than 17 times per game. They’re not a bad offensive team when they keep the ball, but losing the possession battle will always hurt a team’s chances of winning.

Gallagher feels like one bright light from Sunday’s game is that he knows what must be done and how he’ll do it. And he’s glad this team has a break, and will soon have their team together.

Hartford has been missing Nate Sikma, who has been out since the season opener with a high ankle sprain. They should get him back soon, and that will be a welcome addition to this team. The junior forward, the son of former NBA player Jack Sikma, is the classic example of a player whose stats understate his contributions and importance to the team. He wouldn’t turn Sunday’s loss into a win, but with him the team might be playing a little better.

“I don’t have an answer for how he can cause problems for teams, because I don’t have an answer when we have to replace him,” Gallagher said.

The Hawks are now off until Saturday when they host Yale. Gallagher planned a day off on Monday, their first since the regular season started, and now they have a little time to regroup. A little break will help them, and while they may not get fully on track right away, in time they should look more like themselves and like a team poised to improve from 17 wins last year.

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