Life in the American Athletic Conference is not easy.
The trip from the XL Center to Tulsa’s Reynolds Center is just under 1,500 miles. Getting from Tulsa to Houston is another 500. The return trip to Connecticut is 1,700.
The UConn men’s basketball team traveled nearly 3,800 miles in five days. A victory over Houston on Sunday helped salvage a 1-1 road trip.
The Huskies (12-5, 3-2 American) make their return home to host Tulane Tuesday evening at the XL Center.
“We wanted to go 2-0 but it didn’t happen. But I thought the guys came back and played very hard against Houston and we had a lineup change and I think everyone came out and played,” coach Kevin Ollie said. “We were tough…the second half we really put it together offensively and defensively.”
Sensing his team needed a change, Ollie shuffled the lineup for the Houston game. Senior forward Phil Nolan got his first start of the season in place of Kentan Facey. Joining him was freshman guard Jalen Adams, starting in place of Rodney Purvis.
“I thought we had real poise,” Ollie said, “I thought we played with passion the whole night. We responded to adversity. Shots weren’t going in earlier but our defense stayed real strong and hold that team that was shooting like 46 percent to hold them to 33 percent is an outstanding job. And Phil did a wonderful job. I can put a whole highlight tape of him helping everybody out on the defensive end.”
Nolan finished with a career high eight rebounds and had three assists. Adams had 13 points.
“It felt pretty good,” Nolan said. “I felt like Magic Johnson. No I’m not going to go that far but it was fun. It was definitely fun and big for us.”
This will be the second meeting between UConn and Tulane this season. The Huskies knocked off the Green Waves in their conference opener on January 2nd. Tulane (8-11, 1-5 American) mounted a furious comeback in the second half of that game, but ultimately fell short.
UConn is 3-0 lifetime against Tulane.
“I think they’re going bigger. (Jernard) Jarreau is coming off the bench now but Osetkowski is playing great,” Ollie said. “They’re playing decent. We watched the SMU game when we got home last night. That was a game to the end when SMU started pulling away but the first half they played them very, very tough.”
It has been an up-and-down few weeks for UConn, but one constant has been the play of graduate transfer Sterling Gibbs. The starting guard has been a driving force for the Huskies, averaging 23 ppg over the last three games.
“He’s been great,” Ollie said. “He’s keeping everybody together. He’s not the talker that I want him to be in practice but in games time he’s talking, he’s getting everybody in the huddle. We’re still pushing him to be better but he’s doing a great job at leading our guys.”
Look for the Huskies to maintain the same starting lineup they debuted at Houston.
“(Rodney Purvis) played 20 minutes and if he didn’t get in foul trouble he’d probably play the same minutes he usually plays, Ollie said. We just wanted to make a change in the lineup and hopefully he brings some pop off the bench and we can get some production off there.”
UConn will take on Tulane at the XL Center Tuesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.