The UConn men’s basketball team will finish up their exhibition matchups when they take on Southern Connecticut State University on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Gampel Pavilion.
This will be the Huskies’ last game before they open their season next Friday, Nov. 11. In their 2016-17 opener against the University of New Haven last Sunday, they defeated them 83-68. While they may have won by 15 points, the final score may not be so indicative of the quality of their play.
UConn only led by one point at the half and were defensively subpar, but were powered by a big second half that kept New Haven star Danny Upchurch in check, though he finished with 33 points.
“I really want us to be a team that’s very unselfish and a team that plays hard,” head coach Kevin Ollie said. “We have to be a little more consistent with our action and that’s what I’m going to keep building upon.”
Terry Larrier and Vance Jackson were the breakout stars in the first game, putting up 14 and 15 points, respectively. Freshman Alterique Gilbert also added five assists, four of them coming during the 13-0 run that put the Huskies out in front for good.
As Ollie stressed, the key for the Huskies will be the performance of their defense, especially when it comes to defending the perimeter and the drive into the paint. The Chargers were able to poke holes in UConn’s defense with quick ball movement, and it is up to the guards, especially Gilbert, to step up in order for the defense to be truly strong, Ollie said.
“[Gilbert] has to play better defense. You know, all our guards. If you got Upchurch, a transfer coming here and putting up 33 points, that’s the thing I’m going to be keying on. It’s nothing else: just play better guards,” Ollie said.
The offense also struggled early in the game. Very consistent with the quality of last year’s team, they only put up 36 points against a Division II team; slow offensive starts were a big characteristic of the 2015-16 Huskies as well. While having a strong second half team is undoubtedly crucial to success, the ability for the Huskies to jump out to a big lead early will prevent them from having to play catch-up.
Ollie is excited for the offense, however, especially with a pure shooter like Jackson and dynamic guards like Gilbert and sophomore Jalen Adams. In their exhibition opener, many of UConn’s offensive plays were not even run, according to Ollie.
“We wanted to be kind of real vanilla [against New Haven],” Ollie said. “We got more things on the offensive end. We really just wanted to not show our hand too early.”
SCSU will be playing their first game of the 2016-17 season this weekend. The Owls are headlined by senior guard Mike Mallory, who averaged 23 points last season. SCSU is ranked No. 4 by the Division II Bulletin poll and No. 13 in the NABC poll.
The Huskies hope to close out their exhibition games strong before they start the regular season. Tip-off for Saturday’s game is at 1 p.m.