UConn won 64-61 over Memphis on Sunday at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut, and head coach Dan Hurley acknowledged the gravity of the final result.
But when he tried to sum up his Huskies (14-11, 5-7 AAC) team's three-point victory against the Tigers (17-8, 6-6), Hurley thought back on Akok Akok's devastating injury.
The redshirt freshman forward went down in the first minute of the opening half, blocking a shot at the 9:12 mark and suffering what UConn officials said appeared to be a torn Achilles.
"Just proud of the way the guys fought and the character they showed, so it was a big win, obviously, but that doesn't feel like there's no joy in it when something like that happens in the first minute," Hurley said as he fought back tears in his postgame press conference. "So sports are brutal sometimes. Life is brutal sometimes."
Huskies staffers helped Akok off the floor and into the locker room. He returned to the sideline in crutches and a gray boot on his left foot, stretching near the knee and covering the shin. He will get his MRI on Monday, team officials said.
The 6-foot-9, 193-pound Akok started 24 of UConn's 25 games. After redshirting the 2018-19 season, the former four-star recruit from Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut -- the 247Sports Composite's No. 92 overall prospect and No. 15 power forward for the 2019 class -- started showing signs of serious improvement throughout the 2019-20 campaign. Akok averaged 5.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 28.0 minutes per game.
Bittersweet Day in Hartford for all of Husky Nation...Beyond proud of the Courage our Team displayed but heart broken for @akokrakok🙏..I do know this...he will be back and better than ever because he is a special guy with uncommon work ethic and an entire state behind him ! ⛰💙- Dan Hurley (@dhurley15) February 17, 2020
"It was hard seeing someone like Akok go down, but we all fought for him," said freshman guard James Bouknight, who stepped up by scoring 17 points on 6-of-18 shooting and grabbing eight rebounds as the Huskies knocked off Memphis. "We know how that is, getting hurt. We just won this game for him. He's tough. He's a warrior. He's going to be good. Can't wait for him to get back."
UConn still has Bouknight and senior guard Christian Vital, who dropped a game-high 23 points against the Tigers, to lead the Huskies into their final six regular-season games. They get a week to reset before Sunday's 2 p.m. home game against South Florida (11-14, 4-8), climbing to seventh in the AAC standings. Akok's absence -- which, if an Achilles tear is confirmed, could him out for 9-12 months -- makes UConn readjust, but Hurley keeps the Huskies close.
"People have no idea how close these kids are with each other," Hurley said. "Coaches and players -- it's like family."