HOUSTON – Just before UConn tips off against Miami in Saturday's second Final Four game at NRG Stadium, Huskies' star center Adama Sanogo might be downing oranges and coconut water with some intensity. Sanogo is one of three Huskies who observe Ramadan, and as a result, he is not eating or drinking from sunup until sundown.
However, sundown in Houston on Saturday is at 7:40 p.m. CT, just nine minutes before the No. 4 seed Huskies take on the No. 5 seed Hurricanes. That gives Sanogo a brief window to fuel his body before what could be a high-intensity track meet with an up-tempo Miami team.
Sanogo is one of three UConn players observing Ramadan along with guard Hassan Diarra, who averages 13 minutes per game, and reserve forward Samson Johnson. The dynamic first came into play for UConn last week after Ramadan began on March 22. It has required the Huskies' training staff to get creative in helping the trio receive nutrients when the sun is down.
"From (sundown) to like 5 a.m. the next morning, I eat a lot of food with protein," Sanogo said. "My strength coach, he makes sure I drink a lot, I hydrate -- and hydrate a lot. For example, I wake up at five, drink a lot of water to make sure during that day I stay hydrated. That's what we're doing right now, wake up at 5 a.m., drink a lot of coconut water to make sure I stay hydrated during the day."
At 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds, Sanogo is a physical force capable of overpowering opponents in the post. He acknowledged being "a little bit tired" during UConn's 82-54 win over Gonzaga in the Elite Eight last week, which was the Huskies' first game during Ramadan. Still, he scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in just 26 minutes during the blowout win.
UConn coach Dan Hurley could need more than 26 minutes from his star player during the Final Four, though.
"For me as a coach, navigating it was more like panic," Hurley said. "And I don't know much about diet and nutrition and human performance. But we've got a great strength coach and athletic training that have been able to get up with him early and get some food in him. And then obviously the late tip time helps us more. It was a bigger challenge out west because we were playing so early, and it was like really in the middle of him probably being at his weakest in terms of those things."
The 8:49 p.m. ET tip time is the "best-case scenario," Hurley said since Sanogo will be able to hydrate just before the game and as it progresses. Sanogo said he's been navigating similar situations since high school while observing Ramadan.
"I think I will be able to eat at 7:40," he said. "So that's like eight minutes before the game. So I think I should be fine for the game, for sure."